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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Sri Lanka: Two tales of rule of law- Shooting porn and threatening to shoot

Last week, the Balangoda Magistrate passed a suspended prison sentence on a young couple who was found guilty of shooting a pornographic video in the idyllic settings of the Pahanthudawa waterfall. 

Neither the Sri Lanka police nor the CID has shown a fraction of earlier enthusiasm to investigate Ratwatte’s prison escapade. Not even the service pistol that was used to threaten the prisoners has been seized from the minister by the authorities

Ranga Jayasuriya.

The sentencing was the culmination of an intricate investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which is generally tasked with probing the matters of major national interest.

So much so, that the Computer Crime Unit of the CID was also called into action, the sleuths reportedly visited the places where the amorous couple has indulged in love-making.

“These two incidents are proof of the dichotomy of rule of law in theory and practice in Sri Lanka.”

In the meanwhile, a government minister who threatened a group of Tamil prison inmates at the gunpoint, keep roaming free. Lohan Ratwatte, then the state prison minister stormed the Anuradapura prison, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, forced the prisoners on their knees, and threatened them at the gunpoint. He was reportedly trying to extract a confession from Tamil detainees of their complicity in crimes.

Almost four weeks since the incident that happened on September 12, no charges have been brought against Ratwatte, who resigned as the state minister of prisons, but still serve as the state minister of Gem and Jewellery related industries. Neither the Sri Lanka police nor the CID has shown a fraction of earlier enthusiasm to investigate Ratwatte’s prison escapade. Not even the service pistol that was used to threaten the prisoners has been seized from the minister by the authorities.

These two incidents are proof of the dichotomy of rule of law in theory and practice in Sri Lanka.  The rule of law, or what is supposed to be as such, is being exercised increasingly skewed and selective way by the government. It does so, repeatedly, unapologetically and with a blunt on your face contempt.

The dangerous result is that the entire process of administering justice would end up being viewed as one big charade by the public. Worse still, that would vindicate the oft-cited allegations by the international critics of not just the government, but of Sri Lanka.  Why this is happening should be clear to any discerning observer.
The rule of law has increasingly become subordinated to the whims and fancies of the political hierarchy. Institutions that are meant to administer justice are becoming the pawns of the political leadership. This has never been a novel experience, however, under the current administration, things have gotten worse.

Consider what self-revealing sycophancy of the state institutions, when they have to wait for the green light from the political leadership to indict Lohan Ratwatte for the alleged criminal offence.

The state has a duty to protect the prisoners and investigate and produce before the court anyone who has threatened these basic guarantees.  However, such obligations are observed in breach when the political calculations take precedence over the due process of justice and the rule of law.

Such a status quo can not last long. Rather, the situation is incrementally degenerating to the level that the public loses confidence in the state mechanisms administering justice. So would the international community.

Sri Lanka is today at the confluence of two sinister waves of politicization and militarization. These two forces are not just compatible but are also mutually reinforcing. And they function at the tandem of the political leadership. 

Sri Lanka is in that dangerous territory, and is indeed, sliding down the precipice.

Some of the recent arrests and prolonged detentions, under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act such as the plight of Human Rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and Tamil poet Ahnaf Jazeem smack of political witch-hunt and publicity stunts. Duplicitous cases are filled against the individuals, in the absence of commonsensical admissible evidence. Also given the absence of legal safeguards to the inmates of PTA and Sri Lanka’s politicized mechanisms of administering justice, the authorities have preferred to keep them in prolonged detention for the sake of self-preservation, rather than securing a conviction.

This overall collapse has far-reaching consequences.  Not only do meek and politicized national institutions fail to ensure justice and fair play, but they do also surrender their notional powers to others. The military would be the first to chip in – like the army Colonel who beat up a young man for overtaking his vehicle.

That also makes the on-going militarization in Sri Lanka doubly dangerous.  Sri Lanka is today at the confluence of two sinister waves of politicization and militarization. These two forces are not just compatible but are also mutually reinforcing. And they function at the tandem of the political leadership.

( Daily Mirror)

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