By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
One year ago, at a resort in the Rajapaksa-heartland of Tangalle, a British tourist was murdered and his Russian companion brutalised.
The crime was heinous; and inane, given the priority Colombo accords to tourism as a money-spinner and employment-generator. A visibly efficient investigation, a manifestly fair trial and a demonstrably just verdict were thus necessary both for moral-ethical and economic reasons. Yet, a year later, the Kharum Shaik murder case has reached an impasse.
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale(the locality of Mr. Shaik’s home) has made an extremely serious allegation: “The deputy high commissioner has told me he fears that ‘political interference’ is stopping justice taking its course where Khuram’s killing is concerned. Despite assurances from the Government that there would be a swift and a straight forward trial this is going nowhere and ministers and police are sitting on their hands” (Manchester Evening News – 20.12.2012).
Mr. Danczuk also expressed fear that Lankan government may attempt to “quietly drop the case to protect a local politician” (ibid). His misgivings are logical, given the identity of the main suspect (the man who allegedly chased an injured Mr. Shaik, repeatedly attacking him until he collapsed, according to eye witnesses): Sampath Chandrapushpa, chairman of the Tangalle Pradesheeya Sabha and Rajapaksa loyalist.
Lankan police are quite efficient – and very obedient. The men who pistol-whipped Justice Manjula Tilakaratne at a busy junction in broad daylight remain free for the same reason that the murderers of Lasantha Wickremetunga or Joseph Pararajasingham are not behind bars. Those who tried to attack Gunaratne Wanninayake and shot at the house of Wijedasa Rajapaksa will not be apprehended for the same reason the white vans can ply their horrific trade unhindered. The police may not have been so circumscribed in fulfilling their duties, had the 17th Amendment got off the ground, and the Independent Police Commission became a living reality. But post-18th Amendment, no policeman can afford to really investigate certain types of crimes and act against a certain tribe of suspects, without risking his job – or worse.
Tiger Justice and Rajapaksa Justice
In the not so long ago days, when Tiger courts dispensed Tiger justice in Tiger-controlled areas, Tiger leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan appointed a Tiger chief justice. The 32 year old Tiger CJ ‘Oppilan’ (that was his nom-de-guerre; he refused to divulge his real name), was neither a lawyer nor an academic. In an interview he explained why a man untutored in law and lacking in academic distinction was placed at the apex of the nascent Tiger judiciary: “The LTTE has appointed me as Chief Justice because of my experience,” (The Sunday Times – 27.2.2005).
Translate that statement into ordinary language and the reason for the appointment becomes clear. The Tigers wanted a judiciary which ignored natural justice and dispensed Tiger justice. The Tigers needed a chief justice who would hound Tiger opponents and justify Tiger crimes. The killers of Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama, Appapillai Amirthalingam or Neelan Tiruchelvam would have never been found guilty by Tiger courts – because according to Tiger law they were traitors deserving of death.
The Tiger law was thus two laws: one law for Vellupillai Pirapaharan and his supporters and another law for his opponents. The Tiger judiciary was iniquitous and unjust not just conjuncturally but structurally, because its basic premises were protecting Tiger supporters, punishing Tiger opponents and promoting Tiger interests.
Rajapaksa justice is no different.
In his speech at the Instituteof Chartered Accountants, President Rajapaksa claimed that when he first heard about the alleged wrongdoings of Pradeep Kariyawasam, he took immediate steps to cover things up. When an ‘Ape Miniha’ (Our Man) does something wrong, the President pronounced, the proper response is to ‘quietly cover it up’: “With difficulty I covered it up; shaped it; that is how it is done; for ‘Our Man’; so it was shaped”.
If the leader of a self-respecting country proclaimed that he believes in two types of justice, one for his supporters and one for his opponents, his words would have generated a societal uproar. Not inSri Lanka. It is significant that the President made this speech not to the likes of Mervyn Silva but to Chartered Accountants. (Was the President signalling how accountants should do their job, if they want to avoid trouble?) Despite the horrendous nature of the Presidential pronouncement, none of the professionals present expressed any disquiet, even afterwards. Their blasé attitude was repeated across most of the rest of Lankan society. Are we becoming inured to Rajapaksa justice?
President’s earth-shatteringly outrageous statement is explanation enough for the state of the Kharum Shaik case. The chief suspect, Sampath Chandrapushpa, is indubitably an ‘Ape Miniha’. Therefore he is a protected species in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka and his crimes will be ‘covered up’ and ‘shaped up’. (The AG’s Department was brought under presidential control and the independent police commission turned into a presidential appendage precisely to enable such deeds). Had Mr. Chandrapushpa killed a fellow Lankan, he would never have been arrested. Since his alleged victim was a British citizen, appearances had to be maintained, until the murder became day-before-yesterday’s news.
Pradeep Kariyawasam was a protected species so long as his wife, the CJ, did not impede the Rajapaksa juggernaut. The moment the CJ decided to abide by the constitution rather than by Rajapaksa dictates, he ceased being a protected species. Just as Rajapaksa justice entails protecting Rajapaksa supporters it also entails hounding Rajapaksa opponents.
The Rajapaksas want a judiciary which will mete out Rajapaksa justice, not some of the time but all the time. Enabling this future is the real purpose of impeachment. To achieve this end, the Rajapaksas are pushing Sri Lanka on to the brink of an unprecedented constitutional crisis, pitting their tame-legislature against the judiciary and forcing their parliamentary-serfs to violate the law. As the Appeal Court warned on Friday, “This court is of the view that any steps taken in furtherance of the findings and/or the decision contained in the report of the 2nd and the 8th Respondents marked P17 would be void if this court after the hearing of this application issues a writ certiorari to quash the said findings and/or the decision of the PSC, therefore the relevant authorities should advise themselves not to act in derogation of the rights of the petitioner until this application is heard and concluded since any decision regarding these proceedings to alter the status quo may lead to chaotic situation”.
Marx and Engles stated that under capitalism “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life…” (The Communist Manifesto). In their single-minded pursuit of power, the Rajapaksas too are vaporising what was solid and profaning what was holy. As Sri Lanka reaches the brink of an unfamiliar precipice, will we have the sober sense to face the real conditions (and consequences) of Rajapaksa rule? Or will we prefer keep our eyes closed and walk on?