Colombo Telegraph

Judges Met Mahinda At Night

By Suranimala Umagiliya

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking at a public function last week was in a sombre mood, as witnessed in the telecast on News First. He was as usual griping away over the court cases that were to come up against the family. Mahinda went on to charge that Ministers gathered at night to decide on cases against him and his family members. He stated they were forcing the Attorney General to forward indictments to the Chief Justice. That is rich coming from the former President who treated the judiciary and the Attorney Generals Department like his domestic servants. Has he forgotten that high officials of the Judiciary as well as the Attorney General’s Department were appointed by him during his Presidency? Has he conveniently omitted to state that Independent Commissions are in place to appoint such persons after the Yahapalanaya Government came to office?

I am reminded of an article that was published in The Colombo Telegraph by it’s Editor Uvindu Kurukulasuriya many moons ago which has relevance. I produce a section of his article,

“I am reminded of my own experience of the then burgeoning signs of absolute impunity that I saw when I met Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2008. I was meeting him as the Convenor of the Free Media Movement. We were not alone. Other members of his then cabinet were present. After a cordial conversation the President rose from his chair, saying, “Have some dinner before you go.

“one more issue” I said.

“What?” asked the President.

“Tissainayagam’s issue”, I said.

“Oh that. I want to free Tissainayagam. His wife had sent a message through Mangala Moonesinghe”, said the President with a smile on his face.

“Then why did you summon the Deputy Solicitors General two weeks ago and order them to file action?” I asked.

The President was visibly angered by this. He glanced at Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and SLFP General Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena, and then looked directly at me. Angrily banging his palm on the table, he said, “We can fix cases and we can free people.”

He then came near me and hit my solar plexus with a bunched fist in friendly way. “You know everything, don’t you?” he asked.

The above conversation took place in mid September 2008, when we met with him. The president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, Sanath Balasuriya, and it’s secretary, Poddala Jayantha, accompanied me as the convenor of the Free Media Movement to this meeting with President Rajapaksa.

You know everything, don’t you?

What was the story President Rajapaksa had tried to cover-up?

This was it. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had summoned the Deputy Solicitors General from the Attorney General’s Department for a meeting in third week of August 2008. He was impatient with the Department’s lack of success in securing convictions of ‘suspects’ detained by the Police. One was the case of Mawbima journalist Parameswary Munusamy arrested on suspicion of aiding the LTTE and released for the lack of evidence.

The President’s first query was directed to the Deputy Solicitor General in charge of the Tissainayagam case. The DSG said that the grounds for prosecution were poor. The President ordered him to prosecute regardless. The DSG in charge of the ACF case (The gruesome execution-style murders of 17 aid workers with the French organisation Action Contre La Faim in 2006) was asked about the case. The DSG replied that there were two strong witnesses in Australia. President Rajapaksa’s younger brother Senior presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa who was present then inquired whether people in Australia died in road accidents?

An angry Deputy Solicitor General rang me the following day and asked me to come to Independence Square – a popular place for walkers. I met him there. While we were walking he told me the story and asked me to leave the place. Until now nobody dared write about this issue fearing for their lives. The international media would not write about it because they could not get the story from an original source.”

And this from a man who conveniently forgets. Now consider the following,

It was after the defeat of General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 Presidential elections, President Mahinda Rajapaksa revealed his true personality. The manner in which he arrested Fonseka, incarcerated him and thereafter cobbled up charges to shunt him in jail were symptomatic of his inner nature which he had camouflaged cleverly over a long period of time. Remember Mahinda was deemed “King” after the LTTE was vanquished and Sri Lanka was his country to do as he willed. Nay, the country belonged to him and his extended family.

The initial charges to hold Fonseka were based on purchases made by the Army during his tenure as Commander where his son-in-law was named as a dealer. The public did not react to these charges as expected and the Rajapaksa juggernaut had to find alternate charges to hang on Fonseka. This they did with the infamously titled “White Flag” case. “Treason” screamed Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Hard Talk journalist. He went further,” We will hang him”.

Foreign journalists declared the last stages of the so called war against the LTTE was a war without witnesses. It was not entirely true. The military did have a few select journalists from the government owned media in the front lines. In fact they were in the bunkers with the regular troops and dispatched reports and footage as dictated by the Army. When Gen. Fonseka was coerced to contest the 2010 Presidency as the common candidate some of these journalists joined him. Gen. Fonseka therefore was privy to all which took place in the front lines through these journalists. It was in fact one such story that he spoke of which led to the White Flag case. That is part of the known history. Now the unknown.

Gen. Fonseka was charged in three counts under the Criminal Procedure Code, Emergency Regulations Section 28, and 29 for acts against the State. A three judge bench comprising of a lady judge as Chairperson, a muslim and a sinhala judge completed the Bench. Navaratne Bandara, Deputy Solicitor General led the case for the State whilst Senior Counsel (now PC) Nalin Ladduwahetti appeared for Gen. Fonseka. It must be noted that Mohan Pieris was the Attorney General at the time. Pieris was considered to be an acolyte of the Rajapaksa family but more inclined to favour Gotabaya.

Deputy Solicitor General Wasantha Navaratne Bandara was given to using his stentorian voice in Court which was not to the liking of the Chairperson of the High Court hearing this case. There were many arguments between the Bench and the Deputy Solicitor General during the trial. Halfway through the trial Deputy Solicitor General Wasantha Navaratne Bandara was relieved of his brief and replaced by Deputy Solicitor General Buvaneka Aluwihara.

Colombo Telegraph can share with her readers as to how this occurred. Attorney General Mohan Pieris together with the lady judge hearing this case visited President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidents House one night to confer. It was at this meeting that an agreement was reached to convict Gen. Fonseka with one proviso being met. Deputy Solicitor General Wasantha Navaratna Bandara was to be relieved of his brief and Deputy Solicitor General Buvaneka Aluwihara inserted in his place.

As agreed, Deputy Solicitor General Aluwihara took over from DSG Bandara. Though with a split decision (Judge Waravita disagreeing) Gen Fonseka was convicted. President Mahinda Rajapaksa much later was to pardon Gen. Fonseka through the intervention of Tiran Alles, who by this time had switched sides from Fonseka to Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka’s judiciary did go through a bad patch under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The ousting of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was the darkest deed. Fear was the key to control all arms be it within the government, judiciary, opposition or the media and Mahinda had a great ally in his all powerful Chief of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa using the military effectively to achieve such ends.

Yet the Rajapaksa’s dream of making a come back. Many want them back too. Seventy years after Independence from the British, Ceylon showed much promise.

Sri Lanka has failed.

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