By Basil Fernando –
As the Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake left her official residence under duress from the heavy police squad that surrounded her and tried to prevent her from making any statement, she still managed to say a few words reaffirming her innocence and telling that all that she did was according to the law and that the interest of the people was what she cared for.
However, the most moving words of that brief comment were “take care of three of us” meaning her family. These words of a Supreme Court judge in Sri Lanka for 16 years should echo in the minds of every conscientious citizen because it is no surprise that even a person who is a Chief Justice of Sri Lanka and have been a Supreme Court Judge for such a long time lives under the threat of assassination and has to alert the people about their security.
She has a reason to be worried because the ones who have dissented with the government even in much smaller ways have had to pay a heavy price for their dissent. It is not surprising therefore that Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake who has put President Rajapaksa ’s regime to its biggest challenge in the last few months of her being in the office, should fear for the life of herself and her family.
There are many reasons for the Rajapaksa ( regime to want to silence her. The very issue of the falsity of the charges that were made against her will remain one of the great problems for the Sri Lankan government in the country as well as outside. The vicious intentions behind the charges having been exposed have already prevented the government from appointing a competent and impartial tribunal. The same reason would trouble this government for a long time to come. She is able to expose the falsity of the charges and this will rubbish the claims of the government to have acted in a good faith and having removed her in the best interest of the country as the government propaganda machine has been trying to drill in the minds of Sri Lankan people through one of the most extraordinary mudslinging and character assassination campaign carried out through state media.
Her continuing capacity to challenge the conduct of the government and the claims of the government makes her an exceptional target for attack.
The impeachment debate preceding her forced removal has already brought very uncomfortable questions that include the issue of the independence of judiciary and the way the rule of law is being violated in the country to the foreground. With this act, even the very nature of Sri Lanka being a democracy or not is under scanner. Yesterday (January 15th), a US State department Spokesperson gave voice to international concerns while categorically stating that doubts have arisen whether Sri Lanka is still a democracy. Forced removal of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake as well as appointment of a new Chief Justice has been severally condemned across the world. The Commonwealth Secretariat and other associated initiatives have also questioned whether Sri Lanka still abides by the core values of the Commonwealth such as the independence of the judiciary and the rule of the law.
The debate, biggest since Sri Lankan independence, and the consequent embarrassment to the regime, is not going to die anytime soon both within Sri Lanka and in the international community. Further, what Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake has to say will matter a lot in all such debates.
In short, she is an embarrassment to the Rajpakasa government locally as well as internationally. The cause of concern is that this regime and particularly Its Ministry of Defense have demonstrated in the past that they do not lightly ignore those who cause such problems. They have always gone all out for particularly those who gain the sympathy of the people. Dealing violently with the opponents has remained one of the most consistent principles followed by the regime, and that is what should make stand in defense of the life of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake and her family.
The need of the hour is a response from the Sri Lankan people as well the international community to her call requesting “look after three of us”. The ferocity with which the regime behaved in the courts as well as near her residence yesterday has made Ministry of Defens’s intention of silencing her clear. It has also made the aggressive perusal of this agenda clear.
What we need to do was put out best by Frederica Jansz, former editor of The Sunday Leader. To paraphrase her what we need is not a dead heroine but a living person able to contribute to her family and society in the years to come.