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Monday, July 22, 2024

Who Is He? Who Said So? (the case of Namal and Thushara)

Raisa Wickrematunge
Thushara Jayaratne is a name not many may remember. The Law College student was the centre of some controversy last year. He claimed that the questions in an open book Commercial law paper (held December 3, 2010) had been leaked to none other than the President’s son, Namal Rajapaksa.

Jayaratne also said that Rajapaksa had taken the exam in an air conditioned room, apart from the other candidates, even though there was plenty of room in the common examination hall. Jayaratne went to several people with his complaints: the Registrar at the Law College, the police, international rights groups. Not many were willing to accommodate him, he said at the time. The Human Rights Commission said the complaints fell outside their purview. An anonymous caller from the Law College Registrar’s Office asked him to drop the issue or leave. But Jayaratne was undaunted.

What followed after, he claimed, amounted to sustained threats and acts of intimidation. When he last spoke to The Sunday Leader in April, he was hiding in a safe house, in fear for his life, and was only contactable through Skype.

Between the months of December and April, Jayaratne received death threats. He was abducted by two men in civilian clothing on March 3, who appeared to be from the military. After getting a statement, they released him. He was assaulted by another two people outside his home on March 28.
Afraid, Jayaratne fled to a safe house on April 14. It was at this point that he first spoke to this newspaper.
But since then, he says, the situation has only escalated.

On May 9, Jayaratne said in an email, he received a call from the police headquarters (0112473894  0112473894    ) asking him to report to the crime branch for an inquiry that day. The caller threatened that if Jayaratne did not comply, he would be abducted, together with his parents. Jayaratne decided against going to the police, out of fear for his safety. Two policemen later visited Jayaratne’s parents on May 14, taking away recent photographs of him.

Then on June 5, two police officers from the Colombo headquarters questioned the owner of a tea shop near the Sri Jayawardenapura University, asking about Jayaratne’s activities and his whereabouts. Jayaratne had once visited this tea shop regularly, when he had worked at the nearby Green Movement offices. Several of his friends also haunted the shop. The officers said they had received a letter from a foreign organisation on Jayaratne’s case. They said he needed to make a statement to the police headquarters, or submit a letter saying he did not wish for an inquiry. The officers provided a number (0776002269        0776002269      ) to be given to Jayaratne to call for further information. When he eventually switched his mobile phone on, he noticed he had a missed call from the same number. However, Jayaratne was petrified of being arrested and detained on false charges. He therefore decided, once again, not to go to the police.

All was quiet until July 22, the day of the Pradeshiya Sabha elections. At the time, Jayaratne was staying at a church in Hatton. Jayaratne was on his computer at around 11 pm when he heard someone talking downstairs. His cook said in Tamil that ‘the lawyer had come.’ The visitor, however, was speaking in Sinhala. When Jayaratne stepped out, he noticed that the visitor owned a blue four wheel drive.
Jayaratne was clad in a shirt and sarong. His phone was hidden in his jacket. “I was always expecting trouble,” he explained.

Abruptly, he was pushed into the vehicle and taken to the tea estate in front of the Church. There were four men inside, including the driver. The group drove into the estate and forced Jayaratne out of the vehicle. They questioned him for 15 minutes, asking him who was ‘behind his work’ and why he was staying at the Church. Jayaratne was teaching some of the Tamil students English. He told the police that he was preparing for his exams, and had come to the Church to study. The men asked for his address in Colombo, and to protect his parents, Jayaratne gave a false address. At one point, he was shoved hard, so that his sarong fell off. The men also photographed him for identification purposes. He was ordered to come to the Hatton police station with more information on July 25. The men then left him in the plantation, and Jayaratne found his way back to the Church two hours later.

He immediately moved from Hatton to a safe house near Colombo, where he is now staying. Jayaratne says that though he has dialed the police emergency hotline 119 after each incident, no action has been taken to protect him or investigate his complaints. On May 30, he wrote again to the National Human Rights Commission only to be told in writing the next day that the matter fell outside their mandate.

The next day, Jayaratne filed a Fundamental Rights Application with the Supreme Court (case SCFR 223/2011), claiming his rights under Article 12 (1) and (2) of the constitution had been violated by the Law College, which released the final results for the exam before a final determination on the inquiry into the examination related ‘irregularities’. The first hearing on the case was held on Thursday (1).

Incidentally, on Monday, August 29, the Law College held an event marking its 137th anniversary. The Chief Guest on the occasion was President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was awarded honourary status at the College. Jayaratne said this was unprecedented in College history. “The Law College has always respected the Chief Justice, and never entertained politicians as guests. This goes against tradition,” he said. Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was also present at the ceremony.

It is notable however, that the Law College Principal and the police spokesman both dismissed Jayaratne’s complaints as pure hearsay. The Principal told The Sunday Leader that an investigation had been held on the matter, while police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody pointed out that Jayaratne’s evidence was almost exclusively based on a conversation overheard at the canteen. “He has no direct evidence that the paper was leaked. It is just a rumour,” Jayakody said on an earlier occasion. “They were unfounded allegations,” the Principal said in April. He added that Jayaratne had been given a fair hearing, with legal representation. IUSF Convenor Udul Premaratne was among those who accompanied Jayaratne to the hearing.

UPFA MP Namal Rajapaksa meanwhile said he had never heard of Thushara Jayaratne. He added that though he moved with many different cliques within the College, he had never encountered Jayaratne before. He added that even the student union heads had never heard of him. As to the allegations, Rajapaksa said there was no question of the papers being leaked.
Rajapaksa explained that he studied with a group of 10 to 15 people, and they had discussed the subject both before and after the exam, as normal students did. He also denied that he was given a separate room to sit in. “It was a normal classroom, and I did not sit for the exam alone,” he said.
Interestingly, Jayaratne’s fears for his life seemed to have eased somewhat. Where he would once only communicate via Skype, he is now contactable via mobile phone. His Facebook profile states, “I am the person complaint [sic] Namal Rajapaksa exam violation at Sri Lanka Law College,” in the Education section. “I am interested in the rule of law,” he adds, before providing his mobile number on the social networking site.
It would seem that authorities are largely dismissive of Jayaratne’s complaints as being groundless. Rajapaksa himself denied the allegations. Jayaratne, meanwhile, maintains that the paper was leaked, and is worried that his case will not receive a fair hearing.
Case Postponed Till October 25

The Fundamental Rights application which came before a three judge Bench in the Supreme Court on Thursday September 1, was postponed till October 25, Jayaratne’s lawyer, Lakshan Dias said. The bench comprised Justice Shirani Thilakawardene, Justice M. Imam and Justice Chandra Ekanayake. Justice Thilakawardene refused to hear the case  as she is a member of the Incorporated Council of Legal Education which has been named as a respondent. It was agreed to postpone the case until a new Bench is constituted.
The Attorney General brought forward two objections on the time bar and jurisdiction of the case. Dias brought forward the objection that the petitioner genuinely fears for his life considering the nature of the case.



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