Hulfsdrop Hill

19th December 1999

The ghost of Liyanaarachchi

By Mudliyar

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The efforts of a boss of a state controlled organisation to stage a demonstration against Ranil Wickremesinghe in the vicinity of the Colombo Chief Magistrate Court ended in doom, when some lawyers who were PA sympathisers indicated they would hurl rotten tomatoes if it went ahead.

One lawyer, a close associate of Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva had apparently asked the boss, where he was when Wijeyadasa Liyanaarachci was murdered. This angry lawyer told him: "We didn't see you picketing or joining the massive demonstration that was organized by the Magistrate Court lawyers against police brutality. You were then with the UNP, going behind them for favours. Where were you when we demonstrated against the illegal and arbitrary arrest and detention of Judge Mahanama Tilekeratna? Please know that no party, either the PA or the UNP, can make us stooges of any political campaign. We are a professional body with a conscience, We are opposed to politically motivated picketing against anybody."

The man then went to the labour tribunal and told a colleague about the demonstration being nurtured in true leftist traditions. But the colleague was dismayed when the man told him that the demonstration was to demand the arrrest of UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe for his alleged role in the murder of Mr. Liyanaarchchi, .

If there was evidence against Mr. Wikremesinghe, why no action is taken for the past five years. The 'unseen hand' whom the highly respected Judges of the High Court, chaired by Ninian Jayasuriya, mentioned in their landmark judgment was a police officer, and the whole world knows it. When the police officer returned from exile after the death of President Premadasa, Ms. Bandaranaike welcomed him and faced a news conference with him. Later it was ' the unseen hand' who recommended security for Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Ananda Premasinghe, a former SLFP member of the CMC, received a phone call, requesting him to join the anti-Wickremesinghe demosntration outside the Magistrate's Court. "Our political leanings must not tarnish our black coat," he is reported to have told the caller but added he would gladly join any demonstration calling for a free and fair election and an end to political violence.

The Colombo Magistrate Courts Lawyers Chamber has always been in the forefront of struggles involving the legal profession in the past two decades. These lawyers looked beyond the narrow frontiers that their predecessors had built around them.

The transition in the Magistrates Courts came in 1956 with the Sinhala only Act, whereby lawyers from humble backgounds were enrolled. This new breed of lawyers soon turned critical about the pseudo hypocritical virtues that their English educated seniors professed. One such progressive lawyer was Wijeyadasa Liyanaarachchi. He was very active during the 1988-89 era of terror. The proscription of the JVP on grounds that it was responsible for the 'Black July' violence unleashed on the Tamils in 1983 and the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord which was signed amidst dissent and protests gradually led to widespread anarchy. The 'unidentified gunman' was born.

Youth were arrested by police and abducted by goon squads. A few lawyers were brave enough to accept briefs of those who had been arrested and kept away from the public eye under dubious circumstances to file writs in the Appellate Courts to order the authorities to produce them in Court. Mr. Liyanaarachchi was one of those who accepted these briefs. As most members of the legal profession avoided taking undue risks, the few who were foolhardy like Mr. Liyanaarachchi were inundated with writ applications. Mr. Liyanaarachchi became a thorn in the eyes of the police and to some of them was a nuisance.

In the meantime, suspicion grew about anyone, who even on a purely professional basis appeared against the police, alleging that they have detained illegally a person suspected to be a JVPer. The authorities painted the lawyers who appeared for them with the same brush and branded them as JVPers or as its sympathizers. It was their belief that these persons ought to be eliminated to preserve the democratically-elected Government.

Mr. Liyanaarachchi was suspected to be a JVPer by the Police. The National Intelligence was of the view that he was the head of the 'Kangaroo Court' which decided the fate of certain important individuals. Some thought he had links with JVP Secretary Upatissa Gamanayake and by keeping a track of him, Mr. Gamanayake could be arrested.

But to many who knew Mr. Liyanaarachchi he was the epitome of gentleness and kindness. He hailed from Walasmulla and had studied at the Vijitha Madya Maha Vidyalaya. Human rights lawyer Prins Gunasekera once remarked that it was a treat to watch Mr. Liyanaarachchi appearing in the Court of Appeal supporting innumerable Habeas Corpus applications. He would always address the Court in impeccable Sinhala even if the Judges would intercept and would question in English.

Mr. Liyanaarachchi was a frequent visitor to the Colombo Magistrate Courts and he learnt his basics in criminal law under the guidance of Ranjith Abeysuriya.

On August 25, 1988, the fate that decreed upon his clients fell upon him; it played a cruel joke on him. Like many of his clients, he disappeared without a trace from his residence at Nugegoda.

Mr. Abeysuriya was informed by his juniors who feared the worst.

There were witnesses who had seen that he was taken in a motor vehicle from his place of residence. Mr. Abeysuriya immediately contacted Police chief Ernest Perera and wanted to know the whereabouts of Mr. Liyanaarachchi.

On September 3, Mr. Liyanaarachchi died. His body was at the morgue. The Bar Association moved Court that the post mortem be held in the presence of another specialist. Professor Ravindra Fernando was present as an observer. More than a hundred injuries were found in the body; most of them were abrasions and contusions. He died due to shock and internal haemorrhage. For the first time in history, lawyers in the Magistrate Court started a demonstration. It spread the length and breadth of the country. More than 17 buses carrying a full complement of lawyers proceeded to Walasmulla.

The Magistrate Court lawyers in Colombo adopted a resolution that no lawyer should appear for the police, until the suspects responsible for the murder were arrested and charged. The Bar Association for the first time in its history summoned a meeting of the entire membership. The resolution of the Magistrate Court lawyers was adopted unanimously. The lawyers boycotted courts. The Attorney General charged Karavitage Dharmadasa and others.

As Mr. Liyanaarachchi was brought to Colombo and kept at Sapugaskanda, there was suspicion whether he was killed at Sapugaskanda. The Medico Legal report confirmed clearly that the injuries were more than 48 hours old and were sustained at Tangalle.

Judge Ninian Jayasuriya in his judgment adverted to an 'unseen hand' which was responsible for the death of Mr. Liyanaarchchi. A copy of the judgment was sent to the Attorney-General.

If the PA was genuinely interested in finding out the killers of Mr. Liyanarchchi, it could have easily started a fresh investigation.

Nothing happened till a few days ago when the the Dailly News published an inaccurate account of the episode.

After five long years, suddenly Mr. Liyanaarchchi has become a straw that some politicians could hold on to. Lies damn lies and now Liyanaarachchi!

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