By Mass L. Usuf –
“You are morally tainted if you don’t treat both the accuser and the accused with fairness and with respect, and with due process.” ~ John Kennedy
Given the avalanche of a mixture of information and misinformation, truth and lies, facts and fabrications, rumours and speculations, the answer to the above question prima facie will be a resounding, “Yes”. Cicero famously said, “When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff.” This is not a brief in favour of Major General Suresh Sallay but, even an accused person has his own rights in law and in society which cannot be discounted under any circumstances.
Lesson learnt throughout history is that an accused is found guilty or not by way of leading evidence in a court of law. A person cannot be faulted based on emotions, perceptions, imaginations and prejudice however much strong such sentiments may be. These do not dictate the process in the Temple of Justice. Neither can a person be made culpable based on propaganda to create a specific and/or desired public opinion via the social media, press conferences, TV shows etc. These are accepted moral and decent characteristics of a respectable democratic society. It is sad to note however, that in an environment of gross impunity, ‘paraplegic’ rule of law, questionable governance system, corruption and racism can true and real justice be served.
“Every person shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty” is a universally accepted legal principle also, enshrined in our Constitution under the Chapter on Fundamental Rights.
“On May 23 Sri Lankan newspaper Divaina, known for its nationalist stance, published a front-page article alleging a Muslim doctor had secretly sterilized 4,000 Sinhala Buddhist women after caesarean deliveries.” (Reuters, June 6, 2019). The heightened drama that ensued thereafter with the active involvement of the Buddhist extremists, racists, monks and political opportunists continued unabated targeting the Doctor, Mohamed Shafi. By extension the entire Muslim community was despised, hated and frowned upon just as Dr. Shafi.
Though the media propaganda machine and biased public opinion based on fabricated stories and damn lies had already found him guilty, the courts acquitted Dr. Shafi. All those shameless, cowardly, dastard fellows who were in the forefront at that time stoking the fire went into hiding. However, it is said that the damage caused by false accusations often lasts long even after the truth has been revealed.
What has Suresh Sallay done?
According to the doctrine of Natural Justice fairness and equity supreme all else. Therefore, every person should be given a fair hearing (audi alteram partem) before any decision is taken against such person. In the case of Major General Suresh Sallay, the media has hyped up the issue to the extent that public opinion has tilted against him even before he has been given a fair hearing. General Sally is a serving Officer and is subjected to the protocols relating to his position. He is, therefore, unable to call for a press conference like every Tom, Dick and Harry and publicly deny the allegations made against him.
According to the UN Principles of access to justice, there are people who are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold accusers accountable. For such person’s access to law and the rule of law are the avenues to justice. Since this right is available for him, he has rightly opted for the route of seeking legal remedy against the allegations. American broadcast journalist and war correspondent Edward Roscoe Murrow said, “accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”
Father Rohan Silva
On 31 Aug 2023 national newspapers reported that the Attorney of the Director General of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Major General Suresh Sallay has sent a Letter of Demand for Fifty Million Rupees to compensate for the damage due to a statement allegedly made by Executive Director of the Center for Society & Religion (CSR) Father Rohan Silva during a recent press conference. General Sallay has categorically refuted that he has not in any capacity communicated or met the individual named Mohamed Zahran at any given point of time. The General also vehemently denies the allegation that he has provided financial aid or any other form of support to the individual named Mohamed Zaharan and/or any one of his followers and/or any such organization he was involved in. His Attorney states, “these statements are absolutely false, malicious, and outright defamatory. These allegations are based on unsubstantiated, distorted, and manipulated facts that aim to tarnish Major General Sallay’s reputation.”
Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando
Way back in November 2021, General Sallay had instructed his Attorney to issue a letter of demand to Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, Parish Priest, St. Anne’s Church, Kurana demanding for damages of Rs. Fifty million. The letter of demand states, “the said false and defamatory publications have caused injury to the reputation and further caused pain of mind to my client.” It further states, “the statements made by you with regard to my client are absolutely false, malicious and outright defamatory. Moreover, these allegations levelled against my client are nothing but unsubstantiated, distorted and manipulated facts.”
Member of Parliament Nalin Bandara
Several months before that General Sallay through his attorney challenged the several false allegations made by Hon. Member of Parliament Nalin Bandara Jayamaha. He had, among others, said at a press conference that the Director of the State Intelligence Services has not testified before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter attacks. General Sallay has rebutted this allegation stating that he had in fact, in more than five occasions being present at the Commission and provided testimony. In the letter of demand dated 25 March 2021, his Attorney states, “your statements in this press conference have attempted to create an impression based on false and wilfully fabricated facts to link my client to certain individuals with whom he has no associations and to incidents that had taken place in the country at a time when my client was either based overseas or employed elsewhere.”
It is learnt that defamation cases have been filed in the District Court against Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando and Hon. Member of Parliament Nalin Bandara.
All those who had made several allegations now have an opportunity to prove their case and save the Rs. Fifty million demanded as damages from each.
Channel Four Broadcast – Chronology
Prior to the Channel Four broadcast on 05th September 2023, there had taken place correspondences between the Attorney of General Sallay, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) in London and Basement Films/Channel 4.
1. On 7th August 2023, Mr. Ben de Pear Founder of Basement Films wrote to General Sallay stating that a film will be broadcast with testimony alleging his involvement in four areas mentioned therein. Briefly: (1) that he had met with Zahran (2) that he had said Rajapaksas require an unsafe situation for them to win the election (3) that he had asked a TMVP operative to go to Taj Samudra and take the phone of someone and (4) that he had played a role in the Easter bombings. The letter asked if he wishes to respond to these allegations.
2. On 9th August 2023 General Sallay responded that the allegations (1) and (2) are outright false. He said, during that period he was serving as Minister-Counsellor in the Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in Malaysia. This can be verified from the Malaysian authorities. The third allegation is also outright false, as he was attending a training programme in the National Defence College in India from January 2019 to late November 2019. This can be verified from the Indian authorities. As for the fourth allegation, he said that he has no connection whatsoever with the Easter bombing. He further stated that during the period in question he was not attached to the defence or security structure of the country nor did he bear any responsibility connected to defence or security.
3. As a follow up to the earlier letter, on 11th August 2023 his Attorney wrote to Mr. Ben de Pear cautioning him that the allegations have no basis in fact and/or law and the same has already been brought to his notice. Further, should you choose to broadcast the allegations with knowledge that they are untrue, it will be considered as malicious and defamatory statements. The Attorney wrote that his client reserves the right to take legal action against any broadcast without substantial evidence which would tarnish his reputation.
4. On 14th August 2023, his Attorney wrote to Ofcom in London over the intended malicious publication/broadcast by Basement Films/Channel 4. Ofcom is the regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. The letter requests the Ofcom to intervene and ensure that any baseless materials is not published.
Hara-kiri or Common Sense
Channel Four network went ahead with the broadcast. Soon after the broadcast, a complaint was lodged by the Attorney of General Sallay on 6th September 2023 with the Ofcom in London over the malicious publication/ broadcast by Basement Films/Channel 4. “I am now instructed that the said publication has been since broadcasted on Channel Four on 05th September 2023. My client has formerly lodged a complaint with the Ofcom in this regard dated 06/09/2023 bearing reference no. 011667664.” says the complaint.
In general, a false accusation will psychologically traumatise and psychosocially impact the person and his family. Researchers commonly state that the society continue to carry the false accusation and stigmatise the person even after the person is cleared of it.
Since ‘imagination’ is something not yet ‘taxed’ by the government, it is free of cost. I am imagining if General Sallay had really met with Zahran, had financially supported him and done all what has been alleged against him would he, in his proper senses, risk court proceedings by filing defamatory cases. He will be committing hara-kiri isn’t? Also, boldly warning Channel Four network that civil action will be taken even against them.
Something to ponder about, is it not?
Ministry of Defence
With a bang comes a strongly worded statement from the Ministry of Defence on 09th September 2023 titled, “Official rebuttal to channel 4’s Reprehensible allegations regarding the Easter Sunday attack”.
“On behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Defence hereby categorically refutes these false allegations and reiterates the government’s unwavering commitment to the truth, justice and the well-being of the Nation.” The statement goes on to say, “This documentary audaciously shifts the blame of the Easter Sunday attack onto Military Intelligence and Major General Suresh Sallay, the present Director General of the State Intelligence Service of Sri Lanka. The Ministry of Defence vehemently denounces the accusation of orchestrating the attack and assisting the bombers against a dedicated senior military officer who has served the nation for 36 years.”
This is a clean bill of health to Major General Suresh Sallay from the Ministry of Defence.
*Mass L. Usuf, LL.B (Hons) U.K., Attorney at Law, Ex-Advisor to former Presidential Private Department of UAE). Can be reached via email at: email@example.com