A nation in calamity
The murder of a Judge is a very serious thing. And this very serious thing has now happened in Sri Lanka with the cold-blooded murder of a Judge last Friday.The temples of justice and the men and women who mete out justice, from time immemorial, have remained a cut above the rest of the populace.

The fact that three men could enter the Judge's private residence and gun him down together with his police guard and then coolly get away, is a grim reminder, if any reminder is required at all, of the kind of country Sri Lanka has become. This was not a one-off, stand-alone incident. The deterioration in society has been evident for some time now.

And things were coming to a head. The signs were clear. Political interference in the Judiciary in a big way; Military deserters roaming at will as private guards of politicians doing their bidding, including bashing up patrons in dance halls; Police top brass hand-in-hand with the underworld; and politicians - even cabinet ministers - hand-in-glove with the underworld. It was a deadly cocktail for the body politic of a small country to absorb.

It was only a few months ago that some persons broke into the official residence of a lady High Court Judge at Balapitiya at night. Not much was heard of the action taken to apprehend the miscreants. No signal ever went out to the underworld. It was a forgotten episode, swept under the carpet.

Then an accused was gunned down within the premises of the Colombo Magistrate's Court at Hulftsdorp. He had brought a weapon past the court security, hidden in his sock and opened fire while courts were in session. But at least he was apprehended.

Shootings and even bombings outside court premises or an occasional threatening call to a sitting Judge are not uncommon in Sri Lanka. The court precincts, however, have been sacrosanct and even hardcore criminals respected this. Once in a way, a man of unsound mind would throw a missile at a sitting Judge, but it had caused no bodily harm. No one ever thought of breaking into a Judge's residence, ever.

That unwritten code has now been shattered with the blast from two automatic pistols last Friday. A conscientious Judge was felled, and with him, another bastion of democracy and the rule of law.

Judges and the Judiciary have been under fire anyway these days. They were collectively character assassinated before Justice Sarath Ambepitiya was assassinated on Friday. In one sweeping statement they were branded as rogues. Later, attempts were made to clarify the accusations by saying the comments were based on a report by an international NGO and twisted by the media to boot.

We are now told that only some Judges are corrupt. But in fairness to the honest ( like Justice Ambepitiya), the corrupt have not been named; there is only a deafening silence.

To point out the fact that all professions have corrupt men and women, not least the political 'profession', is to state the obvious. An attempt was made to put a total gag on discussing the conduct of the corrupt in the Judiciary, backed by sections of the Bar Association. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that discussing the conduct of Judges was tantamount to Contempt of Court - until those with immunity spoke. And now, the underworld has spoken in their language.

After the killing of Justice Ambepitiya, orders went out from the President's Office to seal all exit/entry points to the city. Black-coated gentry were seen giving orders to the Police, and the Police taking such orders on how to conduct their investigations. It would have been a comedy, if it was not such a tragedy.

By next week, this dastardly murder may also end up as a statistic in the Police crime records. But as we said before, this is no isolated event. It is, but part of a whole new canker that has struck at Sri Lankan society and the administration not just of justice, but indeed of the country. Giving lectures to Police top brass and having the IGP nod his head when asked whether his men and women are corrupt, will get this nation nowhere. It is only by example that one can galvanise society into action against the forces of evil that have been unleashed in this country.

For once, the LTTE is being let off the hook on this murder, although they have reason to be suspects as well. The immediate consensus, however, points in another direction. So what?

Next week, coincidentally, at least some public spirited citizens, have banded together to discuss the Rule of Law and Public Confidence in the Judiciary. Let us hope there will be no gags on them or consequences to follow. But then again, we Sri Lankans are 'captain ' at discussions and doing very little after that. Let it be different this time.Let at least some good accrue from the supreme sacrifice made by an upright Judge.

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