There was an attempted abduction of the Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission on October 7, near the St. Thomas College gymnasium. Had the attempted abduction of Manjula Tilakaratne succeeded, what might have happened is hard to guess. However, judging from previous abductions it is quite possible that he may have ended up in one of the following ways:
It could have been like that of Kumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Artigala, who were rescued after their abductions due to the intervention of the Australian High Commissioner after a massive publicity campaign immediately undertaken after their abductions; or it could have been like the case of Richard de Zoysa, whose body was found after his abduction and assassination; or he could have met the fate of Prageeth Eknaligoda, whose whereabouts remain unknown after his abduction, which happened immediately prior to the last presidential election.
The JSC secretary’s attempted abduction happened in a lonely spot. Had the four abductors succeeded, it would have been unknown for hours. No one would have known what had happened and the abductors would have had sufficient time to hand him over to their masters.
Given the high profile position held by Manjula Tilakaratne as secretary of the JSC, it would have been most unlikely that he would have been released alive if the abduction attempt had succeeded. The implications on the abductors and those who were politically responsible for the attempt would have been too much for that. If he would have been in a position to reveal what had happened it would have caused too much damage. In such circumstances the victims usually never reappear.
Sri Lanka is a nation with experience of abductions and enforced disappearances, which are numbered in the tens of thousands. The abductors and those who are engaged in disappearances in Sri Lanka have enormous experience. It is seldom that they fail in their attempts as they did in this case. However, whenever they succeed they know how to keep secrets.
All Sri Lankan governments during the last few decades have done whatever they can to keep the secrets about enforced disappearances intact. Despite many high level international interventions, there has hardly been even an iota of success in breaking down the secret codes of those who are engaged in such enforced disappearances.
By now, such enforced disappearances, which started with the abductions of rural youth, have reached the point of an attempted abduction of a former High Court judge who is the secretary of the Judicial Service Commission itself. Today hardly anyone considers him or herself as exempt from the threat of such abductions.
Prior to the abduction attempt, the secretary of the JSC warned that the life of the Chief Justice herself is under threat. No one treats such statements lightly. Everyone knows that anything is possible in Sri Lanka as far as abductions, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are concerned.
There is an apparatus at work that does not leave any sense of security for anyone in the country. This internal security apparatus, supported by the intelligence services and maintained with the blessings of the highest political circles, is well entrenched itself in Sri Lanka. It has taken over 40 years since the first experiment in large scale extrajudicial killings in 1971 for this apparatus to become mature and wrap itself around the political life of the country like a python.
Ever since the failed abduction several highly placed government spokesmen have made public statements attempting to make light of the allegations from the secretary of the JSC. One minister said that the JSC secretary should not have been reading a newspaper inside his car but should have been with his son in the playground. Another said that the secretary had planned the attempted abduction himself. Yet another minister said that this might be the work of a third party to bring the government into disrepute. A government spokesman at a press conference said that the JSC secretary should not have made the press release that he made some weeks ago.
None of the actions or statements of the government showed any seriousness or genuine attempt to initiate any inquiries. Justice seems to be the remotest thing available to a Sri Lankan faced with a serious threat to his life and security.
Now the threatened ones are members of the judiciary itself. It is rather sad that during all these past 40 years or so the judiciary itself did very little to deal with the threat of abductions and enforced disappearances of easily over 100,000 persons in their country.
Belated as it is, it is time for the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and all the judges to wake up to the threat posed to the rights of individual citizens in terms of their lives and security. It is the judiciary alone that can play the role of initiating the fight against a well entrenched evil scheme of abductions and enforced disappearances in their country. Now that one of their own had become the victim it is perhaps the final chance for the judiciary to take up the role it should have been playing to protect the civil liberties of all citizens.
All Sri Lankans and the international community should take this attack on the JSC secretary seriously, not only as an attack on an individual but as an attack on the institution of the judiciary itself, for the judiciary is the final resort for the protection of democracy.