Colombo Telegraph notes with concern that two prominent members of Friday Forum have ‘disappeared’ from the organization. The names of Jayantha Dhanapala and Jayampathi Wickramaratne are missing in two press statements released recently. One of the statements calls upon Chief Justice Mohan Pieris to openly declare whether or not he was present at a discussion where a coup is alleged to have been plotted to overturn the results of the recently held Presidential Election. The second, released to mark Independence Day, raises ‘urgent concerns’. Both statements carry the list of all Friday Forum members at the bottom.
It has been the practice of Friday Forum to have its releases signed by Jayantha Dhanapala. Jayampathi Wickramaratne’s signature is usually placed in releases related to constitutional matters.
Colombo Telegraph notes that Jayantha Dhanapala and Jayampathi Wickramaratne have received advisory posts in the new Government. Meanwhile civil society activists say that Friday Forum as well as the Dhanapala and Wickramaratne ought to have first issued a statement about this ‘disappearance’ of the two from the watchdog outfit, especially since it champions transparency and accountability.
Friday Forum has not yet responded to Colombo Telegraph’s queries.
We publish below the statements in full;
20th January 2015
Chief Justice – An Urgent Issue of Public Concern
We have learned from recent newspaper reports that the Foreign Minister, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, had lodged a complaint with the CID alleging that Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, among others, participated in an attempt to thwart the legitimate result of the recently held presidential election by the use of force or by declaring a state of emergency. It is alleged that the Chief Justice was seen in the company of candidate and then incumbent President Mahinda Rajapakse and others at Temple Trees in the early hours of 9 January as election results were being announced and the alleged attempt at subverting the law was taking place.
As a group of citizens committed to the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and good governance in general, the Friday Forum is deeply shocked by allegations made against the Chief Justice and more so by the lack of a response from him. If the allegations against the Chief Justice are true, it would further erode the independence and the national stature of the judiciary of Sri Lanka. Members of the judiciary are expected to be very restrained in their relations, in particular with the executive, in order to maintain judicial independence. Participation in an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government or subvert the legitimate result of an election are serious offences under the law of Sri Lanka. While the allegation of the coup are still to be proved, the allegation about the Chief Justice’s presence at Temple Trees alone seriously compromises the high office and calls into question his fitness to continue to hold this office. It is not an acceptable explanation that the Chief Justice was called upon by the President to tender advice on the handing over of power, since that is not within the purview of the Chief Justice’s functions or duties.
The vital importance of the independence of the judiciary to the democratic rights of the people has been repeatedly pointed out in our previous statements on the judiciary. The judiciary is required under the Constitution of Sri Lanka to exercise the sovereign judicial powers of the people. It is expected to uphold the Constitution and deliver justice without fear or favour. It is the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice which would be called upon to adjudicate any challenge to the result of a Presidential Election.
After all, justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. According to the universally respected Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct (2002):
A judge shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to a reasonable observer to be free there from.
The Friday Forum calls upon the Chief Justice to urgently address public concerns over the serious allegations made against him by either denying his presence at Temple Trees on the night of the Presidential Elections or else resigning from office so that the dignity of the judiciary is not irreparably damaged.
Professor Savitri Goonesekere – Javid Yusuf
On behalf of The Friday Forum;
Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe, Dr. A. C. Visvalingam, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, Ms. Damaris Wickremesekera, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Mr. Faiz-ur.Rahman, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Mr. Saliya Pieris, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr. Danesh Casie Chetty, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Professor Camena Gunaratne, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy Mr. S. C. C . Elankovan, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Mr. Suresh de Mel, Mr. J.C. Weliamuna, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne.
21st January 2015
Independence Day and other urgent concerns
The Presidential election of 8 January 2015 saw a resurgence of the democratic process in Sri Lanka, driven by an electorate which, in unprecedented numbers, exercised its franchise to choose not merely a President, but the future it wanted for the country. The election showed us that Sri Lankans in all parts of the country, irrespective of ethnic or religious differences, united in their resolve to restore good governance and the rule of law and to resist authoritarianism. This provides a foundation on which the newly elected administration must build a new framework of democratic governance that promotes inclusivity, diversity and pluralism. While many issues need attention we concentrate for the moment on the following.
We urge that the celebrations be kept simple and dignified without major military and military hardware demonstrating parades, floats, and the use of school children. The occasion should promote new standards of simple and disciplined lifestyles. Most important is to use the opportunity to remember the victims of the civil conflicts which Sri Lanka has endured since independence, to pledge our collective commitment to peace and reconciliation, and to resolve that there should never be such violence in our country again. We call upon the government, as a sign of our commitment to national unity, to ensure that the national anthem is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil, and that this practice be continued.
The election also shows that poverty and disadvantage have cut across all ethnic lines and people are looking for a better economic future. It is imperative that the current government addresses the problems of economically disadvantaged groups including those affected by conflict and war, and natural disasters including floods and droughts. While acknowledging that these problems are common to all throughout the country, those of the people in the North must be resolved on an urgent basis. This includes restoration of land, resolution of the Indian trawler issue, resolution of the Chunnakam groundwater pollution problem, and a people-centred and inclusive development programme in the context of a long term political solution for the region.
Transparency, media, right to information
The Friday Forum is aware that implementing the 100 day programme will not be easy, and that all necessary measures to restore a democratic framework cannot be carried out during this short time. However we call upon the government to to live up to public expectations in building an environment of transparency and good governance within this time. In the aftermath of the elections, the media has been continuously reporting allegations of the abuse of authority, rampant corruption, illegal amassing of wealth and the plundering of the countries’ economic and other resources that took place in the last few years. We ask that these reported instances of wrongdoing be addressed urgently and those found guilty be brought to book. This must be done with strict adherence to legal procedures and in a transparent manner which wins public confidence.
Transparency also requires a media which is both free and responsible. We deplore the behaviour of the media in the run up to the elections. Both print and electronic state media were grossly servile and partial to the point of indecency and showed a total disregard for all norms of responsible journalism. We demand that both the State and the private media take a balanced, dignified and professional approach and present news with independence and integrity rather than serving the dictates of individuals. We also call upon the government to ensure that the promise to enact a freedom of information law is fulfilled.
It is critically important that the trust and goodwill placed in the current administration by the people of Sri Lanka not be squandered but be used as the first step in re-building a truly democratic country.
Professor Savitri Goonesekere – Professor Camena Gunaratne – Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi
On behalf of The Friday Forum;
Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Professor Camena Guneratne, Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Dr A.C.Visvalingam, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Suresh de Mel, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Ms, Damaris Wickremesekera, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. S. C. C . Elankovan, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere , Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Mr. Ranjit Fernando, Mr. Danesh Casie-Chetty, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne.