The Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government has summoned all magistrates serving in the Western Province to the Ministry of Justice in Colombo on Friday (13) where orders will be issued to lower court judges to ban public gatherings when police bring the matters to court.
Magistrates from all other provinces have been instructed to join the meeting virtually because inter-provincial travel is still restricted to essential services only as Covid-19 infections spike across the island. All magistrates in the Western Province will attend the “seminar” while magistrates in all other parts of the country will attend the “webinar”. Separate lists of participants have been drafted and circulated by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya and Supreme Court Justice Buwanekha Aluvihare will preside over the meeting. The Seminar, titled “Matters relating to judicial proceedings in the context of Covid-19 pandemic” will be held at 9.30AM on August 13, at the Sri Lanka Judges Institute inside the Ministry of Justice.
A letter to participant magistrates representing every district in the island from Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Secretary Sanjeewa Somaratne makes it clear that attendance will be mandatory and warning that failure to comply could result in dire consequences for the lower court judges.
“I have been further directed by the commission (JSC) to inform you that failure to participate at this seminar will be taken into consideration when recommendations are made for promotions, annual salary increments, foreign training and appointment to the High Court,” the JSC Secretary’s letter to participants threaten.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the JSC was badgered into summoning magistrates and threatening told hold back promotions and other perks if they failed to participate by none other than Justice Minister and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s personal lawyer, Mohammed Ali Sabry.
The implied threat in the letter from the JSC Secretary is also unprecedented affront to judicial independence, legal experts said, since the Commission is insisting that the magistrates attend a Government seminar, while making it clear that attendance could affect career prospects.
The Nandasena Regime’s move to strong-arm lower court judges comes amid a wave of protests against the President’s disastrous policies on agriculture and education. Magistrates have reacted lukewarmly at best to police requests to stop these demonstrations considering the coronavirus situation. In Weligama recently, a magistrate allowed a fuel price hike protest organized by former Urban Council Chairman Rehaan Jayawickrema to go ahead, despite police efforts to stop it.
All over the country, farmers are protesting the Government’s horrendously short-sighted ban on agrochemicals. Farmers have been forced to abandon thousands of acres of cultivated land, where yield is sure to be poor due to the fertilizer shortage. Farmers and agriculture experts are warning about food scarcity in the coming months because of the ban. The Nandasena Government is viciously cracking down on teachers and academics protesting the draconian KNDU bill which will set up a highly militarized university outside the jurisdiction of the University Grants Commission and will enroll civilian students as well as military personnel. Several union leaders have been arrested over the demonstrations, with some of them abducted at night allegedly by policemen in plainclothes.
Gas, milk powder and salt shortages are also increasing public frustration and fuelling discontent, with Government leaders now concerned that hunger riots could be in the offing. Daily death-tolls have crossed the 100-mark with medical experts and statisticians warning that Sri Lanka could be looking at 20,000 dead before the country sees the back of the pandemic.
Cash-strapped and facing public ire, the Government is determined to move mountains if necessary to end protests and demonstrations in Colombo and other parts of the country, sources told Colombo Telegraph. Manipulating the magistrates who will be faced with a spate of such requests from the police to ban protests in the near future will be key to ensuring that rising public discontent over the Government’s failures and mismanagement will not be captured on camera and broadcast around the country. (Janakie Mediwake)