A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
With the law, the legal institutions and the courts diminishing in value secret agencies are surfacing quite openly once again. The presence of the military and the police the night before Mohan Peiris was sworn in as chief justice and also during the day itself and the ferocious manner in which the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, was escorted out of her official residence are images that were designed to terrorise the lawyers and citizens who were anxious and bewildered by what is taking place.
However, yesterday another move was started. This was the sending of threatening letters by a group that identified themselves as a patriotic taskforce. They named lawyers who participated in the movement for the independence of the judiciary as traitors, bent on destroying what has been achieved with a great blood sacrifice. Any kind of protest is portrayed as a war against the great warrior who is now ruling Sri Lanka after gaining a victory at enormous sacrifice. Such was the message given to the lawyers. Not only were the lawyers named and identified as targets for their activities but also their spouses were also named. The wording of the letter states that this is the first warning. The warning of what exactly, they do not state. However, from past experience it is quite clear that these are warnings of assassination.
Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake herself left her official premises and despite the fact that there was a blatant attempt to refuse her the opportunity of making a statement to the assembled press, among the things she said was, “Please look after the three of us”. That is the kind of terror that is once again being unleashed and brought to the surface. When the law, the legal institutions and the courts diminish in value the vacuum has to be occupied by something else and that something else is terror! And the agency behind the terror is the Ministry of Defence. It has vast resources as well as trained personnel including the paramilitary forces which carry out the orders given by the Ministry which need not be justified in terms of any law or regulation. When the lawyers asked under what law the entrance to the Supreme Court was closed on the 15th there was no answer. When the media personnel were not allowed to enter the premises the lawyers protested to the police, who attended in force, stating that there was no law to prevent the journalists from entering the premises. However, the police simply ignored the question and continued to prevent the journalists from entering.
Then when the media asked the Chief Justice to make a statement as she was leaving their questions were shouted down by a senior police officer and many others who virtually chased the car carrying Dr. Bandaranayake in order to ensure that she had no opportunity to make a statement.
Now the lawyers and others who participated in these protests have to live in their houses in fear taking great precautions for their security. In one’s own country the alienation of individuals has come to a point where it is only with the provision of security for himself and his family that he can live. Naturally, individual lawyers and others are not able to provide such security for themselves against the overwhelming power of large numbers of police, military and paramilitary forces that the intelligence services.
Threats of assassination to lawyers and their spouses
Three lawyers from Mannar have received the threatening letters as have several other lawyers from Colombo. In Mannar a few months ago a magistrate was threatened by a government minister and Magistrate’s Court and High Court were attacked. There is a contempt of court action against Rishard Bathuidin and also criminal charges against him and several others. It is obvious that the threats against the Mannar lawyers are directed towards the withdrawal of these cases by way of threatening the lawyers and witnesses.
In Colombo a petition challenging the appointment of Mohan Peiris as the chief justice is pending. Although in terms of the tradition this case should have been fixed for argument immediately, no date has been fixed for lawyers to support this case. Obviously, threats against the lawyers in Colombo are directed towards intimidating the lawyers who would support this petition or file other actions.
There is also some contempt of court cases filed against some media personnel whose utterances or writings have contained statements alleged to constitute contempt of court. Obviously, one of the purposes of the intimidation campaign that is going on now is to force the withdrawal of these cases.
Above all it has been the position of the lawyers that the Court of Appeal order in issuing the Writ of Certiori on the basis of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 107(3) of the Constitution invalidates all measures taken to remove Dr. Bandaranayake as the Chief Justice. On that basis they have stated that the appointment of Mohan Peiris lacks legitimacy. One of primary causes of the intimidation campaign is to stop lawyers raising objections on the basis of the absence of legitimacy against the actions of Mohan Peiris.
Periods of terror
There have been periods of terror over and over again in Sri Lanka. Such a period has begun again. Behind the increase of this terror is the fear of the government that their actions do not appear to be legitimate. There is no political myth by which the people’s loyalty might be guaranteed and the people are beginning to see some kind of rationale by which they can no longer justify the actions of the state in denying the elementary right to an honest and genuine enquiry into the charges made against the Chief Justice. Many others are not charged and others are punished without charges. The agencies that carry out the punishment are given secrecy to enable them to send threatening letters and of course the complaints about such threats are not investigated by anybody. There is no one to seek protection from and the courts are no longer places where the individuals can go to for protection. Instead at the top of the judiciary there now sits a person whose loyalty to his political master is so clear that no one will go into his presence in order to complain about the threats they are receiving.
All voices for restraint ignored
The voices of the Mahanayakes and other religious leaders have also lost any kind of value to the point that anything they say is completely ignored. They themselves complain that what they say does not matter at all. The media is suppressed and not allowed to carry these messages to the public through print or in other forms. Instead, every morning begins with a Sinhalese or Tamil programme through the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, which without any visible standard of decency creates the message of violence and indulges in character assassinations naming people as traitors, robbers and thieves and even openly cursing people, saying they are a menace to society. The programmes go on to ask that lightning should fall on these people. Thus, every morning begins with a terrorising programme to create psychological conditions of fear in anyone that has a dissenting voice. Indeed, every dissenting voice is identified as a traitor who is trying to fight against the great warrior who has protected the people by winning a great war.
To be a reasonable thinking person in Sri Lanka is now an offense. It is a crime that could be punishable with death by secret agencies with enormous experiences in carrying out extrajudicial killings in large numbers. A tradition which goes back to 1971 remains where extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, abductions, torture, illegal treatment and every kind of terrorising is allowed.
Such is Sri Lanka in January 2013. This is beginning of a period of terror which may be worse than any similar period in the past because the law and the courts are no longer there to protect the citizens of Sri Lanka.
The voices of two women, one a prominent journalist who had to leave the country, Fredericka Jansz, stating that, “My children need a Mum and not a heroine” and the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayaka, saying, “Please look after the three of us, are symbolic of the fear psychosis that prevails now.