A member of the Election Commission, Prof.S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole has been intimidated by the police, a highly placed source closed to the Speaker and the Chairman of the Constitutional Council told Colombo Telegraph.
According to a complaint made by Prof. Ratnajeewan Hoole, mid-morning on 16th August, an armed police party called at the home of Prof. Hoole in Jaffna and wanted to take him away to the Jaffna police station under an old warrant issued in 2011 at the instigation of Douglas Devananda that everyone knew was vindictive. “There is no doubt that the attempted arrest was triggered by Prof. Hoole’s role as an outspoken member of the Commission and DIG Jaffna knew about it,” the source told Colombo Telegraph.
In the complaint Prof Hoole said: “The police came to my home today with a warrant for my arrest. They know who I am. There is even a (long-forgotten) sign up book at my gate for police patrols from when I joined the Commission. My house is in front of the Department of Education, a church, and a government school besides being next to a church school. The incident attracted much public attention – I feel that the Election Commission is being demeaned by publicly making out that I am a criminal. After all, how can a criminal be responsible for elections? As I detail below, the incident has evoked much fear in me on whether the Election Commission can be independent and in my wife and children on whether we can be safe in Sri Lanka.”
As Prof. Hoole says in his letter, the incident is troubling when this happens just after he challenged the police working in Sinhalese in the North and East and the Commission invoking Article 33(1)(d) of the Constitution on the duty of the President to heed the advice of the Election Commission and giving advice to the President on the postponement of election
“Democracy has been under attack before, but there was always spirited resistance. In the 1980s for example, Jayewardene never had a moment of peace. There was always a spirited opposition, in parliament and outside. Even in the worst times there were great parliamentarians, whom people of all communities could look up to and trust – H. Sri Nissanka, T.B. Subasinghe, Senator Nadesan and Sarath Muttetuwegama immediately come to mind. Cross over has become so much a disease that the majority of MPs have no set position between government and opposition, and are awaiting the right price. Never have the pledges of politicians and their words been so empty, and they don’t care,” the source said.
“The expectations from the revolution of 2015 were great and changes in the structure of commissions held out promise. One of them was the new Election Commission with three members taking joint responsibility for decisions. It was harder to control by visible and invisible pressures, than a commission of one. The present Commission has resisted political pressures and fought against postponement of elections. This incident describes an insidious attempt to muzzle it. If the nation is to sustain itself, democracy can never become meaningless. Every tier that holds it in place must be fought for before it is too late,” the source further said.
We publish below the official complaint by Prof Ratnajeevan Hoole:
88 Chemmany Road
Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker and Chairman of the Constitutional Council
H.E. Maithripala Sirisena, President
Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister
Hon. R. Sampanthan, Leader of the Opposition
Hon. (Dr.) Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe P.C, Minister of Justice
Hon. Sagala Ratnayaka, Minister for Law and Order
Mr. Pujith Jayasundara, Inspector General of Police
Police Harassment in the North, Demeaning Respect for the Election Commission
Demeaning the Election Commission
While people in the South are used to our police treating them with the respect owed to citizens, it is very different in the North. Bear with me as I explain please.
I am a member of the Election Commission. The police came to my home today with a warrant for my arrest. They know who I am. There is even a (long-forgotten) sign up book at my gate for police patrols from when I joined the Commission. My house is in front of the Department of Education, a church, and a government school besides being next to a church school. The incident attracted much public attention – I feel that the Election Commission is being demeaned by publicly making out that I am a criminal. After all, how can a criminal be responsible for elections? As I detail below, the incident has evoked much fear in me on whether the Election Commission can be independent and in my wife and children on whether we can be safe in Sri Lanka.
The police purported to act on an old 2011 warrant when a Minister of the then government, Hon. Douglas Devananda, filed false criminal charges against me in retaliation for reporting election irregularities of the then government in July 2011; this included the harassment of opposition candidates, police jeeps going about without number plates, and the President’s double life-size poster placed inside polling stations in Kayts. It was falsely alleged that I aggravated government supporters and thereby instigated a riot. Hence the charges were criminal charges.
I was served with summons in the form of a letter; however, in the letter my name was misspelt and the legal procedures had not been accurately followed. I was advised by different lawyers to flee because the said summons were not proper and because they feared the culture of political fomented in Kayts by the then government. Flee I did, and the open warrant was issued.
Return to Sri Lanka and Disappointment
I returned on 26 Aug. 2015 as soon as the new government was elected. I welcomed the changes promised and felt I ought to return to show confidence as a Tamil at a time the new government promised reconciliation and the restoration of law and order. I was elated that the 100 point program promised restoration in office to those victimized. The President in a special speech in Parliament on 1 Sept. 2015 promised a red carpet welcome to those of us returning to build a united Sri Lanka.
On arrival in Colombo on the 26th, I went straight from the airport to court in Kayts, reporting there on the 27th. I was released on bail with my brother and daughter standing surety, and the warrant was recalled. The Kayts OIC issued me a letter saying that the warrant was recalled.
The judge initially in charge, Hon. Lenin Kumar, had written to the AG saying the case had no legal standing but did not wish to throw out the case on his own authority because he was known to me from church and school. The AG’s department simply returned the file without comment. It was the first indication to me that not all was well with the 2015 revolution. It seemed that the AG was afraid that the old regime would return and was reluctant to act.
I tried to be restored in the university position that was my due from which I had been kept out chiefly owing to victimization by the EPDP-controlled Council at Jaffna University, where too returnees after the war in 2009 had been promised a welcome by the then President. Despite new appointments to the Jaffna Council in July 2015, the old regime in Jaffna University and stonewalling on allegations into administrative abuse in appointments still continued. Despite having served with academic and administrative distinction as senior professor in Engineering at Peradeniya, the selection committee appointed by the new council in Jaffna, found me unqualified even to be Senior Lecturer. I mention this only to point out that the resources available to give this country and the war-torn area in need of upliftment and new hope, are being sacrificed to corruption and vindictiveness thrown up by an old order and a lack of will in the new.
After several court appearances spanning the past 2years, at each of which the new magistrate asked the police for evidence of where the alleged riot started. Month after month when the police asked for time to complete investigations, Hon. A.M.M. Riyal dismissed the case against me, writing in his judgement dated 16 Jan. 2017 that he had seen no evidence of an investigation [whether into the politically instigated complaint against me or about the election abuses I reported, which triggered the complaint] into the charges and doubted there ever was one. The police were visibly livid that day.
Incident today (16 Aug. 2017)
It was the warrant from 2011 that the police brought to justify my arrest. Around mid-day, two policemen arrived at my residence on a motorbike (police ID numbers: 46073 and 39447). One of the two policemen, who could barely read Tamil, kept asking for a yellow receipt that would have been given to me when I reported to court. The other seemed rude and angry, shouting over the gate that if I did not produce the yellow slip he would take me to prison. I told them that, though I did not have a yellow slip, the case judgement dismissing the charges should be ample evidence that the warrant was not valid. After all, there could have been no judgement without my reporting to court. I showed them the court judgement with the original court stamp dismissing the case, noting that the reference (B157/2011) was the same as on the warrant. I further suggested that any documentation should also be held by court, and a simple follow up should settle any confusion. It was to no avail as they did not read Tamil and seemed uneducated in legal procedures and angry that I knew no Sinhalese although under article 24 of our constitution Tamil is the language of administration in the North and East.
By now a crowd had gathered. My brother Rajan Hoole also came, soon followed by my Assistant Commissioner and driver. The two policemen continued to insist that I should go with them to the Jaffna Police Station. I refused to go with them because they had no legitimate reason to arrest me and it would have demeaned the Commission. I also said police stations are dangerous places and alluded to the Human Rights Commission saying so, and to recent arrests of high ranking police officers for collusion in murder cases. They then brought in additional policemen with machine guns in a vehicle to take me away in. I asked why the machine guns but received no answer.
It was an attempt to place me under effective arrest without a warrant or a charge sheet and in contempt of court. It is the business of the police to do their homework and no citizen could legitimately be expected to carry details of encounters with the police and the courts around to be produced instantly. That is not the citizen’s business, particularly when he is innocent of any offence and the court has said so. Any police officer should know the gravity of acting in contempt of court.
In the meantime, I had contacted the Election Commission. Chairman Mr. Mahinda Deshapriya thereupon contacted police headquarters and in turn DIG North was contacted. I asked the police at my house to call up the Jaffna Police Station, which they refused. Then one Mr. Wanninayake (31417), I believe at the rank of Inspector and a seemingly decent person, asked me to get into the Maria and I refused again saying the police station is a dangerous place for us Tamils. Then he asked me to come in my vehicle, which again I refused. He finally contacted Jaffna Police Station and soon left apologizing.
The state of law and order in the North is very unsatisfactory. No one in Colombo would accept the police coming home with machine guns and speaking alanguage they do not understand, and then trying to effect an arrest without any charges. If this was a genuine effort, did they not even think that a 6 year old warrant may be totally out of date as it was in this case? Why send non-Tamil-speaking officers who could not read a judgement in Tamil to recognize the warrant as irrelevant?
Preserving the Revolution of 2015
I think you would understand the general insecurity felt by the people in the region when a member of the Election Commission could be treated in this manner. It should not be the experience of any innocent person living with his wife and daughters to have armed policemen descending on his home out of the blues with machine guns, and harassing him like a criminal (although even criminals deserve more respect than I have seen them given here but I digress).
Of particular relevance is why the police suddenly dug up an irrelevant warrant from 6 years ago. Do they not check with the issuing court whether it is still valid after 6 years? Is it the indictment of the police by the Kayts judge? There surely is more to it.
The government ought to do something if the revolution of 2015 is to have any meaning to us, the people of Sri Lanka. Somehow, this incident today has already reached the Prime Minister’s ears and he has conveyed to me the assurance that there is concern at the very top and action is being taken with suitable instructions having been given to Hon. Sagala Ratnayaka, the Minister for Law and Order. He has said this will never happen again. I sincerely thank the Prime Minister.
However, this matter is far deeper than one man’s problems. Punishing those responsible allows the same unfair structure inimical to Tamils to continue. High profile people will have their problems solved case by case. The vast majority will continue to suffer. I respectfully ask for structural change.
In my case alone, we should make an active effort to bring in a Tamil-speaking police force at least for the North and East, have better ‘service orientation’ among the police, make sure the police are educated on at least the basic law and human rights, and ensure accountability and transparency in following up complaints of police corruption and intimidation.
Further, I have been publicly insulted and with me, the Election Commission would wonder if there is a message in this for us. Firm action in the form of a public apology to the Commission is necessary. Without it, the Commission would always wonder if our voicing opposition to the postponement of elections, and advising the president under article33(1)(d) on the duty of the President to act on the advice of the commission on creating proper conditions for free and fair election, would lead to another similar incident.
Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
Member, Election Commission
CC: Election Commission
Related to the foregoing, I also raise the issue of the connected case of travel on the A9 and the problems from the Police functioning in Sinhalese in the North and East.
Culture of Police Bribery in the North
I am currently in an ongoing case challenging a speeding ticket received while travelling the A9, a road described by Rajasingham Jayadevan in the Sri Lanka Guardian (7 Feb. 2013) as the Bribery Highway to the North. In this ongoing case, I challenge the corruption of police which I am forced to witness during my frequent travels. As described below, there have been many incendiary remarks and actions by the police, who are not accustomed to having their authority challenged. One court officer has threatened me, while numerous policemen have yelled and glared threateningly at me and my family. Could this case be related to the withdrawn Open Warrant from 2011 being suddenly dug up today?
I have been stopped several times on the A9 during my weekly trips to Colombo on Election Commission business. On these many stops, the vast majority have been ‘addressed’ by my drivers. While I myself pay the fines when the driver truly made a mistake, I have never paid, nor condoned the paying of, bribes. My drivers, however, take it with a smile – one even boasts of carrying money in Rs.20 notes and forking out Rs. 300 in 20 rupee notes when asked for Rs. 500. The policeman could not count in public the numerous notes that had been given to him surreptitiously in front of the watching public and my driver escaped paying Rs. 300. Here are some examples:
1. A member of the Assemblies of God, as recounted by his Pastor, near Puttalam accelerated from a 50 kmph zone as soon as he saw the 70 kmph sign but before he had reached the actual sign. Clocked at 56 kmph, he refused to pay the Rs. 2,000 bribe demanded by the policeman. The policeman wrote “Reckless Driving at56 kmph above the posted speed limit of 50 kmph” or words to that effect in Sinhalese. The Christian, unable to read Sinhalese, went away thinking the ticket was just for speeding and realized the actual charge only later. He pled guilty and paid the fine rather than face further harassment as advised by his Puttalam lawyer.
2. A bus owner whom I have befriended through frequent trips told me that he collects Rs. 40,000 from passengers. It costs him Rs. 12,000 per trip for diesel – and then driver Rs. 2,500, conductor Rs. 2000, wear and tear Rs. 5000, route permit Rs. 3,000, and leasing of bus Rs. 5,000. His basic cost is Rs. 29,500 per trip from Jaffna to Colombo or vice versa. On top of this he pays about Rs. 1500 per trip to the police, when they falsely accuse him of speeding or try to find faults like bald tyres, a route sign not visible etc. He thus makes Rs. 10,500 a day, leaving out sudden expenses like a tyre burst which can cost him Rs. 60,000. Taking the bus on 12 July night, I tried to peer by the side of the bus. The conductor went to the rear end of the bus where he makes the payment as if showing the vehicle documents. This happened 7 times on that trip, with Rs. 300-500 per stop. The driver reluctantly admitted to me that this is what he does, adding that if there are no faults he has to pay nothing. The bus owner, my friend, also confirmed this.
3. I was recently stopped while driving 60 kmph ina 70 kmph zone on the A12 (approximately 14 km towards Anuradhapura of Puttalam (at Karuwalagaswewa). The policeman who stopped me showed me a radar reading of 80 kmph. I was asked to pay the spot fine, which is written only in the English version of the temporary licence they give, and which is never to be paid to the police. The very words “spot fine” mean it is to be paid then and there as if to suggest that those who read English pay the police on the spot. The Tamil version speaks of leverage (thendam) rather than a fine (thandanam) as if to suggest leveraging an immovable policeman through a bribe. I declined the spot fine, accepted the ticket, and had a friend in the Commission at Anuradhapura pay the fine at the Post office to avoid the hassle of my having to go back to Puttalam.
Subsequently, due to the frequency and blatancy of police corruption, I have been urged by the Commission not to drive to avoid the problems of corrupt policemen making money like this on the A9. This makes it difficult for me to work.
Mankulam Police and Physical Threat
On 26 June, 2017 I could not get a driver and was forced to drive myself from Jaffna to Colombo for an Election Commission meeting. While driving at 67kmph just South of Muruhandy, I was stopped by the Mankulam Police who showed me a radar reading of 83 kmph. I will not get into details because the matter is sub judice, but, frankly, I was fed-up with this corrupt police culture which sets only two options – paying the police or returning to isolated places to retrieve my licence after paying the fine.
This time, fed up with putting up as I am expected to, I drove straight to the Mankulam police station where I filed a complaint. The police were reluctant to take down my complaint and advised me three times to pay the fine of Rs. 1000, telling me that it would be cheaper than fighting the fine in court. It took me almost an hour to convince them to take down my complaint, which in itself a hindrance and unethical. Yes, the lawyers and hotel and travel bills are costing me thousands – but fighting this ticket is something I need to do for the poor harassed people of the North.
I have pled not guilty. In court in Mullaitivu, I have learnt while cross-examining the policeman who issued the ticket to me in Sinhalese that the Mankulam Police Chief Marlon Perera had not even queried the policeman with the false radar reading. Such is the state of law and order in Sri Lanka.
The first court date being 13 July, I went to Colombo for the Commission meeting on 12 July by bus, not wishing to run into the thieves in uniform again. However, relevant to this letter is that I objected in court on 13 July to the police leading evidence in Sinhalese, to their writing traffic tickets in Sinhalese, and the Tamil, English and Sinhalese versions of the ticket not being consistent. Fortunately, the strict judge has followed the law by providing a translator. But the people suffer in criminal cases where the police prosecute in Sinhalese. Most cases involved fishing in prohibited areas, and selling/transporting liquor or sand. The fines are usually Rs. 1000 to 5000. If the cases were in Tamil, those charged could simply plead guilty and go away paying only the fine. When it is in Sinhalese, there is usually a Tamil lawyer whose only job seems to be to be an interpreter and for this, the accused pays a lot more than a fine. My barber’s wife who was there to pay a fine for someone, told my wife who as my witness had to sit out with her, that in addition to the fine they have to pay something to the police to avoid delays. She mentioned Rs. 12,000 when the fine was only Rs. 10,000.
The many policemen in court started shouting when I stated that policemen who cannot work in Tamil should not come to work in the North and that there is no point in upholding minor laws on speed limits while abusing the constitution’s article 24 on Tamil being the language of administration in the North and East. As I went out of court, a policeman who was in court taking care of those on remand (or was working in that area) came out, made friendly conversation and fondled my Commission ID card, asking for my name, where I worked, etc. Then, he suddenly turned grim turning off the façade of being friendly. Staring directly into my eyes, he jabbed his index finger into my chest without any words and moved away. Was it at threat? I intended reporting this to the judge but the man did not show up on the next two court dates of 20 July and 2 Aug. The next date is 7 Sept. The new incident today makes me wonder if the Mankulam police contacted their friends in Kayts and Jaffna. Or is it something worse as in the next section?
The Election Commission: Being muzzled?
The Election Commission is in a position of confrontation with the government. We have repeatedly called for elections to be held without postponement. I have written several articles on this and spoken publicly, and have been commended in Parliament by Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena. We as a Commission are in a sensitive position, having just written to HE the President with all three of us signing and invoking article 33(1)(d), which makes it the duty of the President to act on the advice of the Commission. Some friends say that this visit by the police to my home with machine guns is a signal for the Commission to be silent. Although I hope this is not the case, the situation of our country makes me wonder.
The Kayts judgement was before the police who were the prosecutors. Was the recalled warrant being used to try to arrest me not a contempt of court? Can the police who did this to a member of the Election Commission, ever be trusted to help and work under the Commission in the time of Elections as constitutionally mandated? I fear for democracy even as I hope I am wrong. That they would do what they did to me to, say, Mr.Mahinda Deshapriya, is unthinkable.
The cases of:
1) The last DIG (North) hiding a suspect with known involvement in school girl Thivya’s rape and murder,
2) The prosecution of poor people in our courts in Sinhalese in violation of the constitution, and their being forced to hire lawyers to mediate the language barrier,
3) The issuance of tickets in Sinhalese in violation of the constitution ignoring the plight of Tamils when they do not know which police station or court to go to; and
4) The rampant corruption on the A9 making it impossible for lawful people to drive while Police Chiefs like Marlon Perera ignore complaints against crooked policemen by the public all show that the police break the law frequently and cry for urgent action by the author