Colombo Additional Magistrate Rajindra Jayasuriya shocked a court-room on April 30th when she pitched into the 31-year old ‘leader’ of the honking protest against a road closure in Colombo for the purposes of a VVIP movement last Tuesday (27).
When the arrested man’s lawyers informed the court that he had recently returned from studying in Australia. The lawyers told the court that even when the Australian Prime Minister travels, these kinds of road restrictions were not imposed.
To which the Additional Magistrate retorted: “That is in Australia. This is Sri Lanka. If you do not love this country don’t come back. Stay in Australia”.
It was clear the Magistrate had already made up her mind that the citizen arrested for carrying out a legitimate, constitutionally protected protest against the rulers of the day, was a criminal, observers in court pointed out.
Additional Magistrate Jayasuriya asked the young man if he was willing to apologize. She then blamed him for the incident and ordered his bail. The man concerned walked out of court and tendered an apology to the government and the police.
The remarks by Additional Magistrate Jayasuriya, observers said, was unprecedented coming from the judge who must adjudicate on the matter brought before her by the CID and defended by counsel for the protestor. It is unheard of for a magistrate to make her views on the incident so clearly known in open court and raise questions about her objectivity, legal experts explained. Lawyers present in court, speaking confidentially to Colombo Telegraph, referred to the Additional Magistrate’s conduct as “disgraceful” behaviour from a member of the judiciary.
The VVIP convoy was eventually revealed to be the motorcade of the visiting Chinese Defence Minister. Video of the honking protest went viral within 24 hours as public anger mounts over Government corruption, mismanagement and a soaring cost of living. The man, instigating other motorists to honk in protest, is heard asking police officers barricading the road: “Is this what we voted for?”
Police arrested the young man who lives in Battaramulla two days later. Lawyers argued that under the constitution, the 31 year old citizen had committed no crime that should have led to his arrest. He did not hinder police personnel or instigate violence. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has ruled that noisy protest – by beating drums or clanging saucepans – is a legitimate exercise of the citizens’ fundamental right to free expression.
Lawyers are urging the Judicial Service Commission to take action against Additional Magistrate Jayasuriya over her conduct in court on April 30th. The JSC circulars clearly stipulate that judges should refrain from making public statements irrelevant to a case that could damage the dignity of the judiciary or cast aspersions upon its independence.
Ironically, the Supreme Court first ruled on the matter of noisy protest in 1993, in the famous Jana Gosha case. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current Prime Minister was the chief organizer of Jana Gosha in 1992, when the opposition urged the people to make noise in protest of the then UNP Government.
Pictures of Rajapakse blowing a horn during the protest were widely circulated via social media after last week’s honking incident. The judgment authored by late Supreme Court Justice Mark Fernando, read: “speech and expression” extend to forms of expression other than oral or verbal – placards, picketing, the wearing of black armbands, the burning of draft cards, the display of any flag, badge, banner or device… …,[SSC] concedes that drumming, clapping & other sounds, however unmusical or discordant, can, in the context of the Jana Ghosha, be regarded as “speech & expression”.(By Janakie Mediwake)