By AHRC –
Romesh de Silva PC is one of the topmost lawyers in Sri Lanka, a former president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. He led the legal team which represented Dr. Shirani Bandaranayaka (CJ) in all forums during the impeachment saga. Jayampathi Wickremaratne PC, who was formerly the senior consultant in the Constitutional Affairs Ministry is a well known constitutional lawyer and submitted a petition to the Court of Appeal opposing the impeachment, MA Sumanthiran is an MP from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and an active member of the legal team which represented the CJ. He spoke during the parliamentary debate on the impeachment, opposing the impeachment and voted against it. JC Weliamuna is a prominent lawyer, an active member of the Lawyer’s Collective and an internationally known human rights campaigner. He is also a former director of the Sri Lankan branch of Transparency International. This week they all received threatening letters from a secret agency which identified itself as the Patriotic Front. The letters named all of them as traitors and those who are opposing the enjoyment of the victory over the war against terror and declaring that drastic actions will be taken to silence them.
During the United National Party press briefing held yesterday (January 17) Mangala Samaraweera who was formerly a Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that a plot to cause accident to, or assassinate JC Weliamuna had come to their notice. He went on to name a criminal who had been recently released from prison as the person assigned to carry out the attack.
Yesterday in a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission we gave details of the letters that are being sent by this secret agency to all those who have taken an active part in various legal actions relating to the attacks on lawyers, judges and in particular, the government’s move to impeach the CJ.
The extent of the gravity of the threatening letters is demonstrated by the kind of persons against whom the letters have been sent. Mr. Romesh de Silva PC is perhaps the topmost commercial lawyer in the country who is sought after by almost the entire commercial establishment. He has also been the leading lawyer in some of the most important political cases in recent years such as the case of General Sarath Fonseka and the case against the Chief Justice. While sending threatening letters has become a part of the repressive activities for several decades now there has hardly been any instance where persons as prominent as Mr. de Silva has received such threats. This is an indication that the machinery of repression now threatens even persons at the highest levels.
Thus, the impeachment of the CJ who is, of course, the topmost judicial officer in the country, has not been the last act of the government against the legal establishment of Sri Lanka. The list of persons mentioned in this statement shows that any person who will bring up a case before the courts against the government will become a target for extrajudicial attacks of the government’s repressive mechanism.
In the past journalists of the highest levels became the target of attacks. The cases of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Keith Noyar, Upali Tennekoon, Potala Jayantha, Sanath Balasuirya, Fredericka Jansz, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, Mr. Gnalingam Kuganathan and Prageeth Eknaligoda are among those who faced such threats. While Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated and Prageeth Eknaligoda was made to disappear all others had to flee their country and become exiles elsewhere to frustrate the execution of these threats. A large number of other journalists had to follow suit and more names are being added to this list regularly. The practice of journalism as independent journalists exercising their critical faculties was thus severely curtailed.
Now the attacks are directed towards the legal fraternity. A rational legal administration is now regarded as a basic threat to the political regime in power. Lawyers who exercise their normal functions to utilise the law in order to assist their clients who are involved in various disputes and who are trying to protect their legal entitlements are now treated as being engaged in activities that threaten the peoples’ enjoyment of the victory against terrorism. This threat has now been extended to the topmost lawyers of the country.
The identity of the people who refer to themselves as the Patriotic Front which sends these letters is no secret either. All these letters emerge from the Ministry of Defense. Selected intelligence officers, police and military officers and paramilitary groups are mobilised by the Ministry to pursue those who are identified as targets for these attacks. Thus, these letters are not products of some loose elements but rather come through a process of selection by those who are assigned to carry out such actions. The Ministry of Defense also has all the capacity necessary to carry out these decisions.
This is one of the reasons why the complaints made to the police regarding these letters, or any other act which creates suspicion of an attack being planned, does not lead to a credible investigation. Investigations do not take place when the threats are made, nor do they take place when the threats are carried out.
All kinds of public statements will be made and various gestures such as invitations to meet with top level politicians but none of this will affect the carefully organised activities of the Ministry of Defense.
Thus there is no legal means by which any person who is threatened can take any meaningful action to seek or to obtain legal protection. This leaves room only to plea for political patronage from the government itself. Naturally the prerequisite for obtaining such patronage would be a promise not to engage in any kind of legal action on behalf of any client who has any cause to complain about the affairs of the government. The “affairs of government” is broadly interpreted to mean any kind of business engagement that those who are linked to the regime are engaged in. In short the price to be paid for political patronage to guarantee protection could be obtained only through an assurance that one will not exercise one’s professional rights to practice law according to the practices and principles governing the legal profession.
Every morning the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) both in Sinhala and English begin with a one hour long programme which, for the most part, is a vitriolic propaganda attack on those who are identified as ‘enemies of the people’ that are attempting to obstruct the peoples’ victory over terrorism. Names are mentioned and sarcastic comments are made without any regard to the norms of journalism. In fact, the two commentators behave not as journalists, but as interpreters of events on behalf of the government. In these programmes any kind of language can be used anything including the making of curses expressing the wish that lightning should fall on the particular characters mentioned. These propaganda attacks are a preparation for physical attacks. When someone is attacked it could be said that it is “the people who have attacked them”.
What all this points to is a government strategy to move away from law based social relationships to a situation where whatever the government does is considered permissible. This will affect not only violations from physical harm but also property rights. Anything can be taken away from anybody, whether it be a job or a title to a property without any recourse to law. If the more affluent classes think this could happen only to the poor and the socially weak they had better reconsider. Today there is no basis for such belief given the type of persons now being attacked; for example the Chief Justice and even the topmost lawyers.
Kumar David / January 18, 2013
This is an accurate summary of the internal situation in the country; I sense it all around for people who are very active such as those mentioned in the statement.
It is a great pity that not most people inside the country are not prepared to take a stand. It is absurd cowardice to imagine that if you so much as take a stand you will be bumped off. They can only target a few high profile people as yet. If people shout in protest even this can be defeated.
gala / January 18, 2013
Have you watch the tv news of late, professori? Ordinary people are more concerned about their transport, educating their children and getting their damaged roads done than a bandito CJ being reinstated.
But the fired CJ and beneficiaries and benefactors of NGOs not just said Shirani B would remain as the CJ. They said they will not accept the new CJ but Shirani B will continue her duties on the 15th. Stupid woman even asked IGP to provide her with police protection. She imagined a nonexistent constitutional crises and thought police is also confused like her. But she dare go to SC premises but left official residence to her private home. Hd she acted mad and created hullabaloo she would have been arrested and charged for disturbing peace or for madness like that Muthuhettigama MP.
I am waiting to see, whether lawyer collective will stick to their guns and boycott courts or abandon her in toto and walk quietly back to court rooms one after the other to cheat their clients.
Shirani B has few choices: She join NGO sharks like Pakiasothy, WeliAmuna and et al or join the TNA with Neelakandans and Sumanthirans or may well start a new political party of her own for she has displayed all the qualities of a typical crooked Sri Lankan politician. For one thing, we agree that’s her right. We wish her luck. For another thing, RanilW will not have her even near Sirikotha.
We know that neo-colonialists won’t end their plots with this. They will trap another gullible and use him/her as their sacrificial lamb to achieve their ends. However, the more they try to topple MR more rural mass will rally round him and never to let Sri Lanka be a Syria, Pakistan or even an Egypt is today.
Urban-Knight from Polonaruwa / January 21, 2013
It is a choice whether we remain the so called ‘rural masses’ with the victimized mentality draging the country to 3rd world mass Burma, Syria, Pakistan or a developed & liberal state.
If the thrill is to be servile to dictators let it be, draw the line and turn back to medival muck
JULAAMPITYE AMARAYA / January 18, 2013
THE SCOUNDRELS AND LOO TERS ARE AFRAID FOR THE CRIMES THAT THEY HAVE COMMITTED .
SO THEY ARE VERY AFRAID NOW.
THOSE TRAITORS, ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA ARE POINTING FINGERS AT OTHERS,
BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT THEY ARE THE REAL CULPRITS AND TRAITORS,
lanka / January 18, 2013
I am sorry to say that Lawyers Collective’ team headed by JC Waliamuna is nothing more than a timid group of lawyers, surely the role they played is a sheer shame to the entire legal profession. They have proved that they cannot take a firm stand when the opposing powers are strong. Although it is bitter, the truth is that, in this impeachment saga, in front of the strong lawless stand taken by the lawless Rajapakse regime, Waliamuma and his great team simply melted way. When attempts were made to remove the legitimate CJ, this group said that ‘there is a great peril faced by the democracy, and the judiciary is being undermined by the Executive and the Legislature. Yet, when the CJ was forcibly removed and replaced with a Rajapakse stooge Mohan Peiris, they had the audacity to say that they are willing to cooperate with the person illegitimately appointed to the office of the CJ. And now, as if nothing untoward had happened, this spineless cowards happily work with the illegitimate CJ. This rubbish ‘Lawyers Collective’, the BASL headed by another spineless man Wijedasa Rajapakse, at least now if they have some degree of self-esteem admit that they have absolutely failed in this whole exercise and that they are responsible for betraying the people and the monumental blunder committed by them and seek advice from the GMOA, as to how to launch a lasting campaign if one committed to a definite outcome.
perakadoru bena / January 18, 2013
I think this comment over-simplyfies what happened. i am a junior lawyer who got involved with the Lawyers’ Collective and I have no faith in the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL). BASL did very little by itself and that too due to pressure from the Lawyers’ Collective. The legal community did its best. It decided not to welcome a new “CJ”. And that decision will stand. But we cannot prevent opportunist lawyers (some very senior) from attending the ceremonial sitting to welcome the new “CJ” who apparently has decided to have a welcome ceremony so that he can break the Bar.
The lawyers also succeeded in getting the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal to declare the impeachment process null and void. Senior lawyers wrote to the Supreme Court judges to go along with its own judgement and not recognize the new “CJ”. But the response was not encouraging. I am aware that five out of the 10 judges said that they were prepared to take that drastic step if their numbers would go upto 8. But this was not to be.
As far as not appearing before the new “CJ”, this is matter for individual lawyers. Some have quite a number of cases in the SC and if they are to boycott the CJ, they will have to return the briefs to their clients and return fees charged. The bench is known only the day before and waht if the “CJ” is listed to hear a case? If a lawyer absents himself without cause, he can be disenrolled.
Some lawyers with only a few cases are planning to give up working in the SC. But then litigants will lose their services and expertise. some I know are not taking up new cases in the SC but will be forced to appear before the “CJ’ if cases they have accepted come before them. No lawyer would wish to be disenrolled. For that matter, no GMOA member will be willing to be struck off the doctors’ register.
It is unfortunate that all this happens this way. Butthe Lawyers’ Collective NEVER said they will accept the new appointment. It is the Secretary of the BASL, Gamage, who is a director of a State corporation who did so.
I am sorry but the GMOA is not the best trade union to follow. It has only safeguarded the interests of the doctors. They don’t utter a word about lack of facilities at hospitals, about patients being asked to get tests done at private labs, about lack of even “paracetamol” in certain rural hospitals. They are in tow with the powerful drug lobby. Go to any private hospital in the evening and you can see medical reps hanging around with goodies. They get trips too with the courtesy of drug barons.
I admit that the lawyers are, as a whole, a conservative lot. But please do not blame ALL lawyers.
Village boy / January 19, 2013
Safa / January 18, 2013
These types of threats and intimidation are to be expected. Govt seems to be uncomfortable with cases that may come up challenging the impeachment and appointment of MP. Hence these may be considered to be premptive action against the leading lawyers to discourage such moves.
Legally the govt is on a bad wicket and can be challenged under the laws of the land over a host of issues. Removing CJ SB is only a preliminary move that can have limited advantage. However if the majority of the judiciary and bar stand firm and uphold the law the final objective of the regime still cannot be achieved.
Hence if the Judiciary and Bar really want to uphold the law they must not give into threats and intimidation. Govt will find it very difficult to justify any real attack so these are merely threats to frighten people. If the judicary and bar succumb to these moves the entire process of anti impeachment and the sacrifice of CJ SB would be in vain.
Citizen / January 18, 2013
It is time for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Judges to enter a verdict of contempt of Court and remove those members concerned from office and disenroll some of them from their profession, for defying the orders of the Court. Unruly characters of the legislators cannot be tolerated in a democratic country where there is independence of judiciary. Judiciary should uphold the Rule of Law.
Senguttuvan / January 18, 2013
I wonder how many average Sri Lankans accept the stark reality we live under a dangerous, semi-literate regime given into a congenital criominal gangster mindset. Like Syria’s Assad, they may not think twice if they were given the option of using mass violence against the people, if the choice comes to that. The people of Kelaniya had some inkling of this for some years now. We have already seen evidence of this anti-people attitude at Hultsdorp. Worse, the more senior of them believe the public always forgets any issue after a while – minor or major.
Romesh de Silva is a man of much learning, affable, urbane gentleman – a model citizen. whose knowledge of the law has helped thousands, enriched the legal process and brings dignity to the country. He may have given cause to the unstable regime he is a danger to them although being anti-regime or taking sides in politics may be totally out of the agenda for Mr. de Silva. Sumanthiran may be in the list of would-be assassins for more reasons than one.
As usual, the regime will laugh their hands off this speculation. But over-zealous sycophants within close proximity to the regime with intentions to please them – like in the case of Lasantha W, Kumar Ponnambalam and Raviraj – may cause “an accident” in an environment perpetrators of all 3 killings – conducted in the morning and in the open – vanished into thin air.
It is up to the regime to mitigate the growing fears of civil society now in high gear. MR, the master PR man, may once more lessen the heat in a land on the boil.
Kumar / January 18, 2013
As a indipendent observer I feel sorry about protest of Lawyers collective group and Bar Association.”The Lawyers Collective’ team headed by JC Waliamuna is nothing more than a timid group of lawyers, surely the role they played is a sheer shame to the entire legal profession. They have proved that they cannot take a firm stand when the opposing powers are strong. Although it is bitter, the truth is that, in this impeachment saga” agree with Lanka’s above comment.
I would like to mention History of Bar Association during the period of 1989 protest saga of of lawyers period against UNP regime brutal killings of 14 Lawyers.Including Wijedasa Liyanaarachhci, Charita Lankapura, Kanchana Abepala and others. They were appeared against extrajudicial killing and kidnapping of JVP Activists.(filed Habeas corpus cases) Government branded them as JVP lawyers.After these killings Senior Lawyer -former Politician Prins Gunasekara and several other Lawyers fled the country to protect their lives.That period present so call Human rights Lawyers not even enter to the Bar.Still Some of those lawyers not travel to Sri Lanka.Most of the Lawyers branded them as JVP Lawyer’s at that time.Late Desmond Fernando help them to save their lives at that time with the Help of International agencies.After this no one inquired neither bar or any government failed to find out who has committed this brutal killings.Chandrika Kumaranatunga appointed Commission to find out Batalanda Killings.What has happens to Batalanda commission? No one responsible for those killings.Just wasted time and money.What has happened to Richard de Zoyza’s,Lasantha Wickramatunga’s killings.Several thousands like this disappeared.
Bar Association is presently not take ant action against this so called Lawyers Associations.They are using Court premises to political protests.I really don’t know have many lawyers Associations operating at present.Anyone can setup Association and making staments to the press in Sri Lanka. It is a joke.Head of the bar should act independently.Lankave Lowyers la digatama kelinne Pissu.
lanka / January 18, 2013
I never said the GMOA is body that safeguards the national interest. Entire nation knows that they are a self-centered group of blood suckers. What I simply said is that they know how to use their power to their advantage and how to stoop the rulers and to get their things done. Had similar approach applied by the lawyers with a clear warning to the government that they would not resume work until the govt respect the rule of law then the govt would not have any other option but to withdraw the stooge Mohan Peiris and restore the legitimate CJ to the office of the CJ.