By L. Murugapoopathy –
During the end of his term, the former President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena continuously declared that he would mandate the death sentence for drug offenders. He maintained that he would execute this order no matter who opposed it. People wouldn’t have forgotten how applications were invited for positions of Executioners to carry out the death penalty.
Currently there are hundreds of prisoners condemned to death and life sentences in Sri Lankan jails. Many of them have been sentenced to death by the courts for crimes such as murder, gang rape and violence. Among them are also members of the Sri Lankan defence force. Before 2015 the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the serving Defence Secretary.
Previously in Mirusuvil, Thenmarachchi, on the 20th of December 2000 eight Tamils, including a five-year-old child were murdered and dumped in the sewer pit of a house.
The following is a news summary to further remind you of the above incident:
During the protracted war in the Northern Province, some people who fled from their homes in Thenmarachchi went back to their former place of residence after some time. These homes were located in the town of Mirusuvil. When these people went over there, they were detained by soldiers in the area. This incident was known to have occurred on the 19th of December 2000. It also came to light that the next day eight detainees were murdered and buried.
These were people who had repatriated to Uddupitty. When they went to inspect their former homes and possessions they left behind, they were shocked by what they saw in the vicinity. They witnessed a half buried dead body of a young girl. They informed what they saw to their family relatives.
The next day the army captured those who had gone to identify the dead body. One of the captured escaped with injuries. Eight others were later found brutally murdered and thrown into the sewage pit of a resident in the area.
Details of the killings emerged after Ponnuthurai Maheshwaran, the person who escaped with severe injuries informed his relatives. Based on information he provided the police later recovered the murdered bodies from the sewage pit.
The body of the young girl who was found half buried by the people however have not been found by court enquiries or by the police to this day.
Who was that young woman…? The mystery still continues!
Police Investigations into the eight killings in December 2000 led to arrest of some army soldiers. They were produced before the courts with 17 charges including unlawful arrest, torture, murder, and unlawful burial.
During this period Chandrika Kumaratunga was the President of Sri Lanka. This case was first heard in the Chavakachcheri court and subsequently in Anuradhapura court.
In November 2002, the Attorney General asked to nominate a panel of three Judges to investigate this matter. The government decided to prosecute the case without jury. The case was later moved to the Colombo High Court. The three-member panel of Judges visited and inspected the site of the incident on April 28, 2011. They also visited the sites where the murders took place, the place where the bodies were dumped and the Court complex where the identification parade was held and recorded their findings.
Those who visited Mirusuvil were the three judges, Colombo High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara, W.T.M.P.B. Warawewa and Sunil Rajapakse together with Additional Solicitor General Sarath Jayamanne and certain other officials.
The group Annalingam Premshanker, the then Chavakachcheri District Judge who conducted the preliminary hearings of this case, Subramaniam Kandaswamy, the Deputy Judge who conducted the identification parade of the suspects and Samarakone Bandara and the police officer in charge of the preliminary inquiries into the incident assisted the panel of Judges in identifying the places where the incidents took place. The five soldiers accused in the case were also taken to the area of the incident in Mirusuvil along with the panel of Judges.
On June 25, 2015, the Colombo Court imposed the death sentence on Sunil Ratnayake, the army officer who brutally murdered the eight Tamils by cutting their throats. The judges acquitted the other four soldiers accused in the case and ruled that there was lack of evidence to connect them to the murders.
The death sentence was again upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2017.
The continuing saga of this massacre which took place in the year 2000, toured through Chavakachcheri – Anuradhapura – Colombo Courts and eventually ended with the death sentence. It took 17 years to confirm this verdict.
Now that the current President using his special Presidential powers has found it fit to pardon and release Sunil Ratnayake, the prisoner condemned to death, the Mirusuvil massacre has become a continuing saga over the past 20 years. This has become the subject matter of discussion in the media, among human rights activists, Amnesty International and the United Nation’s International Human Rights Council.
At a time when the world media is talking about the Corona virus threat, the release of a murderer on death row in Sri Lanka could not be considered as an event that went through silently. The same media that exposed the Corona threat has also exposed this unusual general amnesty to the outside world.
This incident reminds us of our ancestor’s adage “In a lawless land a defenceless woman bears a child.” What it really means is that justice is not available to the helpless or defenceless.
This is exactly what has happened to the justice system in Sri Lanka.
At this time, many past events in Sri Lanka come to mind. Those who keenly observe Sri Lankan politics can look back at these events.
Prisoners convicted of horrific crimes such as brutal murder, sexual killings, drug trafficking and also political prisoners are serving their sentences in jails over long periods of time. The release of political prisoners including those involved in the Tamil militancy, was talked about continuously during the previous ‘good governance’ government of Maithri-Ranil period.
Would it be better if they were given general amnesty? Is this good or bad? President Maithri, Prime Minister Ranil and the then Minister of prison reform, Swaminathan, discussed and held debates on this question over a period of time.
We have seen the details of these debates in the media.
“In the struggle between good and evil, it is the hesitation and inaction of the good that end up as evil” paraphrases a quote from ‘Hamlet”, a play written by the world’s greatest playwright William Shakespeare. In the same manner, the matter of the amnesty for political prisoners has also ended up as a pantomime during the time of the government of ‘good governance’.
“Not everyone who is outside is good and not all people who are in prisons are bad,” said ‘Trident of Actors’, the veteran Tamil Nadu actor M. R. Radha, who himself spent a short period in prison.
Even though the bureaucracy and politicians tried to chase, hunt down and undo her efforts, Kiran Bedi, the Inspector General of Tihar prison in India bravely stood undeterred like the goddess of salvation, to rescue the prisoners of Tihar. She has expressed the same sentiments at different times too.
The lives of incarcerated political prisoners languishing in Sri Lankan jails today with psychological and physical trauma are inextricably entangled in the same way, in the struggle between good and evil. How many of these political prisoners were in fact directly involved in terrorist acts. How many of these prisoners initially detained on suspicious grounds were subsequently indicted by confessions secured through torture. How many were people who unwittingly provided food and shelter to those who were involved in terrorist activities. How many had information that was of a suspicious nature? Only the individual conscience of those involved can attest to these facts.
They say, ‘The law is a dark room and in there justice is the guiding light.’
With this backdrop, I am moved to recall some prominent politicians who had served jail terms and others who were accessories to murder who cleverly escaped punishment. I also recall ‘holy men’ who were involved in terrorism who later became ministers of parliament and regularly attended Buddhist puja ceremonies.
The leaders who created the People’s Liberation Front which today has split into two or three groups, like Rohana Wijeweera, Lionel Bopage, Upatissa Gamanayake, Podi Athula, Loku Athula, Mahinda Wijesekera and D.I.G. Dharmasekara and many others were also incarcerated as political prisoners in Welikada, Magazine, Kandy, Bogambara, Jaffna and Anuradhapura prisons.
On being released from prison, they re-entered and engaged in democratic politics.
Rohana Wijeweera contested the first presidential election and secured more votes than the LSSP candidate Mr. Colvin R.D. Silva.
In the subsequent regional elections, Lionel Bopage, former General Secretary of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) contested the Galle District Development Council and was returned as a successful candidate. He also contested the by-election held in Galle. Upatissa Gamanayake contested the Anamaduwa by-election.
Mahinda Wijesekera later served as a Minister in President Chandrika’s cabinet.
The forerunners of these events were Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. D. Silva and others who were imprisoned as political prisoners during the British rule. They later fled to India and lived undercover for a while. These people in the later years served as members of parliament and government Ministers.
Even comrade N. Shanmugadasan was a suspect in the April 1971 rebellion during Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime and was held in detention.
Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was shot by a conspirator on September 25, 1959 and died the following day on the 26th. One of Bandaranaike murder suspects Mrs. Wimala Wijewardene, the former Minister of Social Welfare cleverly used legal loopholes and escaped prosecution and fled abroad to live a life of confinement.
The former Tamil National Party General Secretary Mawai Senathirajah, former Minister Douglas Devananda and former North East Chief Minister Varadaraja Perumal were previously jailed for political reasons, under suspicion of involvements in the armed struggle.
Douglas Devananda and Varadaraja Perumal, who survived assassination attempts in the August 1983 uproar in the Welikada prison were later moved to Batticaloa prison. After a period of incarceration, they escaped to India. They too later returned to Sri Lanka and reappeared in the political arena.
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) a member of the LTTE group later became the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. He is currently serving a jail sentence in Batticaloa prison in connection with the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham. Soon after the new President took office in 2019 there were speculation that he would be released. Pillaiyan has also filed a nomination to contest in the next election.
The former Eastern Province Commander of LTTE Karuna Amman, became an appointed national list member of parliament in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and was the Vice President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. He is also contesting the next general election.
Lalith Athulathmudali was a member of the United National Party, who was imprisoned under the charge of throwing acid on his ex-wife. He too cleverly escaped prosecution and contested the Ratmalana seat and won in the 1977 general elections. He served in President J R Jayawardena’s cabinet initially as Trade Minister and later as Defence Minister. Lalith Athulathmudali’s acid attack on his former wife attracted ridicule from his political opponents with the nick name ‘Acid Mudali’ in political platforms. After he became a Minister, he washed away his sins by carrying out religious offerings at Bo trees in Buddhist temples. Later, he clashed with President Premadasa. Both were killed within weeks of each other in different locations. While both suspects of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike’s assassination were convicted, Lalith Athulathmudali’s and President Premadasa’s murderers have never been caught.
Lalith Athulathmudali, who ordered the ‘’Liberation Operations’’ in Vadamarachchi in the north in 1987 and caused many civilian casualties entered paradise through a ‘Political Operation’ which to this day still remains a mystery in the South.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka celebrated their triumph after the successful end of the ethnic civil war in 2009 with servings of cakes and milk rice (Kiribath). Later in the conflicts that emerged on the white flag issue, Sarath Fonseka himself was imprisoned.
Thanks to Maithripala Sirisena’s government of good governance, Sarath Fonseka, upon his release was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal and was paid backdated remuneration in hundreds of thousands of rupees. The government of ‘good governance’ while considering doing the right thing by the former prisoner Sarath Fonseka paramount, neglected addressing the people’s needs.
Ragupathi Sharma’s wife, Mrs. Vasanthi Ragupathi Sharma was arrested and jailed as a political prisoner on suspicion related to the LTTE suicide attack on President Chandrika Kumaratunga. She was acquitted after languishing in prison for nearly 15 years. The court however sentenced her husband Ragupathi Sharma to life imprisonment for a period of 30 years. He is currently serving his sentence.
How was Ragupathi Sharma, a priest conducting service in the temple came to be arrested? Sumanthiran’s Tamil National Alliance, which serves as the marquee of lawyers, Gajendrakumar, who claims to be actively promoting Tamil nationalism and the parties of C.V. Wigneswaran, Sri Kantha and others, did they explore and look into this matter?
The former government of ‘good governance’ gave Sarath Fonseka the Field Marshal rank, decorations, privileges, and remuneration for the short period of time that he was imprisoned. Was compensation offered for the miscarriage of justice perpetrated on Mrs. Vasanthi Ragupathi Sharma who was finally acquitted as innocent and cleared of all charges after being unnecessarily imprisoned for almost 15 years?
For the one who returned from prison Field Marshal rank, promotion, and millions of rupees of remuneration. On the other hand, the poor housewife ignorant of politics, who was simply taking care of her children and her family and engaging in her husband’s temple services found herself imprisoned due to circumstances beyond her control. What was justice for her after being unlawfully imprisoned for 15 years?
When political prisoner Sudhakaran’s wife died in Kilinochchi, Sudhakaran was taken to the funeral ceremony by the prison guards.
Everybody would have seen the heart wrenching scene in the media how the young daughter of the prisoner innocently tried to climb into the prison vehicle on which her father was to return to prison while the Sinhalese policeman who came with the prisoner stood in tears at the funeral ceremony.
During the 2019 presidential election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his nephew Namal Rajapaksa went on the election campaign in support. He and other politicians such as Angajan and others visited the residence of the political prisoner Sudhakaran in Kilinochchi and spoke to relatives. Gotabaya Rajapakse subsequently raised the speculation that if he came to power all Tamil political prisoners would be released.
But the one who has received Presidential amnesty is a convicted cruel murderer on death sentence!
The President is the only one who will be aware of the number of prisoners still languishing in prison waiting for his Presidential amnesty, which is under his direct authority (subject to his personal likes and dislikes).
In time to come the people of Sri Lanka will not forget this Corona virus. Nor will they forget the Presidential amnesty granted to a cruel murderer.
The people of Mirusuvil who lost their relatives in the year 2000 and the defenceless people in this lawless nation are altogether destined to their pathetic plight.
At present, those who are seeking justice and the perpetrators who have been found guilty are both out in the open.
*The original article was recently written in Tamil and translated from Tamil by Noor Mahroof