Ever since Maithripala Sirisena was elected President of this country in January 2015, for four years this island nation never witnessed a single terrorist attack or for that matter the many civilian marches held in exercise of their right as enshrined by Article 14 in the Constitution, never heard the sound of a single shot [...]


The spectre of fear raised to stalk the land


Ever since Maithripala Sirisena was elected President of this country in January 2015, for four years this island nation never witnessed a single terrorist attack or for that matter the many civilian marches held in exercise of their right as enshrined by Article 14 in the Constitution, never heard the sound of a single shot fired nor was a single death reported at any one of these protests.

Beneath the din of democracy in practice, beneath the sharp cacophony of the clash of opinions the nation was at peace with itself and the air it breathed was one of general calmness. Not that anyone noticed the welcome change in the environs consciously and savoured it as being ‘too good to be true’, but took it in their stride as their birthright to enjoy this sunny interlude of placid times.

If the many felt this way, it seemed otherwise to a few on the fringes. Such times to them were too bad to be true. In fact, it was anathema, a curse cast upon them by the fates that condemned them to the horrors of a barren exile.

An attempt was made last year in March to revive old racial scores when a few Muslim shops and homes were burnt in Digana. The cause: On the night of February 22, a 42-year-old man was driving his lorry when he was repeatedly tooted by a three wheeler to give way. Inside the three-wheeler were four Muslims, the lorry driver a Sinhalese. When the lorry driver stopped at a station to refuel, the four Muslims too stopped and assaulted him. The police arrested the four Muslims and later released them on police bail. Only when the lorry driver succumbed to his injuries nine days later, did they realise it was a case of manslaughter or murder and begin their search to arrest the suspects.

On March 4, Sinhala mobs from surrounding areas descended on Digana town to beat their drums of hate and to trumpet their racial superiority and, on the strength of some spurious Sinhala chauvinism, to rake the coals of bigotry and set ablaze Muslim homes, Muslim shops and attack mosques. A young Muslim man died in the incident.

The SUNDAY PUNCH of March 11, last year raised the question: “From where did these scumbags claiming the right to represent the Sinhalese suddenly come? From what dead wood did they creep out? From what stinking sewers did they emerge? What right did they have to drape themselves with the Lion Flag of the Sinhala race and use it to wipe the excreta of their opprobrium? And soil the national standard of all Sri Lanka with their faeces?”

On March 6, curfew was imposed in the Kandy region and on March 7 several social media sites were blocked.

The waters had been tested and found inviting. The masterminds who pulled the strings of their puppets to instigate and incite mob violence had found how easy it was to shatter the peace and create conditions which warrant the imposition of a State of Emergency and need an iron hand to control the situation.

Apart from the Digana racial incident and another similar racial incident which occurred in Gintota in 2017, the country experienced a welcome period of peace until it was shattered by Muslim suicide bombers who attacked three churches and three five star hotels in Colombo and brought a pall of gloom and uncertainty to linger on, turning the nation’s prayers into one unified appeal for the safety of the State and its people.

The opposition took the cry up and made it the nation’s anthem.  After six months of the tragedy, this Lord’s Prayer is sung full blast at every gathering. The opposition’s charge is that since the government has arrested eight army intelligence personnel, the intelligence gathering operations had been paralysed and rendered impotent. It is this breakdown in the largely neglected intelligence service, they claim, that made possible the Easter Sunday carnage.

But hold on. Wasn’t it the case where the intelligence body kept their ears to the ground and knew in advance details of the impending attacks? Wasn’t it also the case that they were further fortified by an intelligence report sent from their counterparts in India who too warned with “hard intelligence” giving the date and the targets? Thus wasn’t it the case that the security intelligence personnel were fully informed and though the warnings were sent up the rungs there was a communication breakdown at the very top?

Though the Defence Secretary, Hemasiri Fernando, and the Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara were fully apprised of the deadly warnings they failed, it is alleged, to convey the same to the President who went on holiday to Thailand with his wife and children. This alleged failure at the top for which both IGP Pujith and Defence Secretary Hemasiri are presently languishing in remand on charges of criminal negligence and murder, is perhaps the real reason for the success of the attacks.

Their failure to inform the President — though it is a matter of contention — and to take measures to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks despite having prior knowledge of the attack cast no reflection on the efficacy of the intelligence network.  Their sin cannot visit the heads of those below them.

Thus, isn’t the opposition’s charge that there was a complete breakdown in the intelligence service a little too exaggerated, cut to suit their own personal agenda designed more specifically to take full advantage of the nation’s tragedy rather than to reveal the true situation?

And based on that premise isn’t their call for security and a strongman at the helm of government just four days after the Easter carnage, a trifle far-fetched? A blatant attempt to fish in troubled waters? Isn’t it an insult to the memory of all those who perished in the flames and rubble of April’s Easter Sunday bomb blasts, that the coals of that indescribable mass tragedy should be raised repeatedly to revive the dying embers of political parties’ fortunes? And with the security of the nation as their main war cry arrogate the power to enact  at a future date whatever laws they deem fit to ensure that the nation’s safety is guaranteed and anyone who questions it is branded with the mark of a traitor.

As long as the fear psychosis is instilled into the public’s mind by repeatedly raising the spectre and continues to breathe therein, the comforting need for a totalitarian form of government to guarantee peace of mind will always exist.

This Tuesday, President Maithripala Sirisena, on the eve of taking flight to Japan to witness firsthand the grand coronation of its Emperor, issued an extraordinary gazette which called out all three armed forces for the maintenance of public order with immediate effect in view of the upcoming presidential election which was twenty-five days away. Accordingly, personnel belonging to the Army, Navy, and the Air Force would be deployed in the 25 districts and territorial waters.

Why? Why this sudden need to summon the tri forces out from its barracks and march on the roads to maintain public order?

Are there ominous signs of imminent collapse of civilian life visible only to presidential eyes and no other and make him deem that it is necessary to prevent civil rebellion by making the tri forces goose-step the streets?

Is the President content to acknowledge that civilian rule is no longer possible and that military might to prop up the last dying days of his regime is the only option available to him to make his fiat run and the government to function?

The ongoing fear psychosis syndrome seems to be driving home the last nail in to his Presidential coffin as well.

TNA turns turtle with its list of impossible demands

Extreme demands: TNA leader R. Sampanthan and frontliner M.A. Sumanthiran

Ever since the LTTE lost the war, the TNA members have been bravely able to walk out its shadow and present the acceptable face of moderation in their quest to find a lasting solution to the grievances that beset the Tamil populace of Lanka. And the TNA, led by R. Sampanthan and guided by M.A. Sumanthiran, have done a marvelous job adopting one common Sri Lankan identity whilst engaged in the pursuit of its goals.

Until now.

Standing at the crossroads of a new presidential election and wondering how best to squeeze the last drop of juice from the Sinhala parties’ lemons, the TNA has felt emboldened enough to drink of the Palmyra tree and, dropping all pretenses to issue both the SLPP and the UNP with a 13 point star studded ultimatum telling both parties, ‘If you want our support to help you woo the Tamil voters’ hand, this is our price’.

When their stance has always been that they are prepared to find a solution that will satisfy the just grievances of the Tamil people within a unitary status, they have flung this reasonable demand to the lagoon winds and opted instead to mound the high horse of intransigence.

Their modified extreme demand that is the first of a widely publicised list of 13 demands states, “A solution to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue must be found by setting up a new federal constitution rejecting the heretofore unitary constitution accepting the nationhood of the Sri Lankan Tamils and recognising its sovereignty and accepting that Tamils under the provisions of International Law are entitled to the right of self-determination.”

The first demand in its own right, puts a full stop to any further discussions for the Sinhalese majority will not even consider the establishment of a federal state coupled with the right of self-determination. In Sinhalese eyes this would amount to the establishment of a de facto state of Eelam on Lankan soil. And unless the UNP or the SLPP have a death wish, they would not wish to be seen dead in negotiating the demand.

Not to mention that the other demands are even less amenable. Both former President Rajapaksa and present President Sirisena are on record as stating that they will not betray the Lankan armed forces, no doubt the present two candidates of the two parties are of the same unshakeable view. If asked, their immediate reaction would be “over my dead body”.

But look what the TNA has brought to the negotiating table, the indigestible second course from the menu is as follows: “Full-fledged independent impartial International mechanisms through the International Criminal Court/International Arbitration Tribunal must be set up to inquire into the War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and Genocide committed during the final stages of the war.”

The third demand reveals that TNA is hopelessly out of touch and has got its timing wrong. At a moment when the Muslim terror attacks on churches and hotels are still afresh and evergreen in the public mind and the spectre of terror is continuously paraded to loom over the public head, the TNA has the gall to call for the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Without trying to suggest ways to trim its application in certain instances, the TNA curtly demands “the Prevention of Terrorism Act must be withdrawn”.

And the fourth demand is that “all Tamil political prisoners must be freed unconditionally”. This takes into no account what these prisoners have been charged with, what the definition of political prisoners is, just a blanket label to cover all Tamil prisoners as political prisoners and therefore by definition and by right they should be set free without any questions asked.

Enough? Do you want to hear the other nine? Neither the SLPP nor the UNP did.

It was reported in the Daily News on October 15th that:“when SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa was asked about the TNA’s proposed solutions to the North-East problems, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa had interjected saying that people in the South were facing greater problems than those confronting the Tamil people. Both Gotabaya and Mahinda had said most problems confronting people in the North and East and that of the South were similar”.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s blunt answer was to reject all the demands out of hand. So did Sajith Premadasa reject these demands put forward by the Tamil National Alliance in conjunction with the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), the Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) and TPF. These were not demands that either the UNP or SLPP could have entertained in any manner without risking the wrath of the majority community.

Later addressing a rally in Beliatta on October 21, Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “We have to make a decision as a nation. We did not put an end to the war by allowing people in the North to come to the South and vice versa.”

On October 22, the Tamil parties had a response of their own. The ITAK declared that it would not support either Sajith Premadasa of the UNP or Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the SLPP as the President.

If this step is carried out, it will suit the Rajapaksa’s fine. A complete boycott of the Northern Tamils would be Manna from Heaven to make the Pohottuwa bloom. In 2005, a secret understanding with Prabhakaran’s LTTE to force the Northern Tamils to give that year’s Presidential election a miss had resulted in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s narrow victory over Ranil Wickremesinghe where he won by a majority of only 150,000 votes. If the same could be engineered without asking for it, it would be a bonus and would clench victory for his brother Gotabaya.

For the UNP, however, this would be bad news. Its game plan is to win as much of the majority community vote and the majority of the minority vote. Thus, it is puzzling why the TNA which had stood solidly behind Ranil Wickremesinghe in the UNP’s time of crisis last year when Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister, should now turn turtle and deny the UNP candidate the chance of victory by putting impossible demands before him.


SHRAMANTHA: Will his doctorate make the President set him free?

Royal Park case: Can Sirisena set Shramantha free?

It is becoming increasingly clear that President Sirisena’s morbid interest in judicial murder by way of hanging has perhaps led him to believe that those on death row are his to hang or spare depending on his mood swings.

Like a farmer viewing his chicken coop and wondering which unfortunate bird should be throttled to adorn his luncheon table and satiate his appetite, the President has taken to the habit of expressing his need to hang someone, anyone in prison’s condemned row.

Though the Constitution allows him to do what practice discourages him, Sirisena’s frustration must also stem from the fact that ever since he declared that he has no qualms like his predecessors have had in implementing the death penalty after a 42-year moratorium and finds that he has been thwarted at every turn in sending a death row inmate to kingdom come.

Now with time running out for him, he renewed his vow this week on Monday to hang somebody before he hangs his hat and leaves Presidential office. Addressing the third conference of the Model United Nations, the President referred to a temporary injunction granted against the execution of four people earmarked for execution by the President. This hearing is to be taken up on October 29.

19 YEAR OLD YVONNE: Kept her tryst with death on Royal Park stairway

He said, “There are cases filed against me for my decision to hang them but if the Court gives a favourable decision, I will hang at least one before I go.”

That was on Sunday. At the same event he suddenly changes track and undergoes a personality change. From the mean figure of one drooling for the neck of one who had been found guilty on a drug related charge, he turns to a figure of forgiveness personified and pleads to spare the life of a murderer in his death row nursery.

Now unlike the farmer he was a few moments before who watched his chicken coop and wondered which one to slaughter, he assumes the countenance of a saint and in charitable godly mood begs to set one free.

He refers to the Royal Park murderer, Shramantha Jude Anthony Jayamaha, and says a request has been made by his family seeking a Presidential pardon. While highlighting the importance of the youth practising tolerance and patience, President Sirisena states, “No one knows what will happen if there is no patience. I hope you remember an incident involving two youths at the Royal Park housing complex several years ago. That boy was 19 years old. He had an argument with the girl and the girl ended up being killed. Today, that boy has done a doctorate as well and I believe he is 32 years old now. The party of the child who is in prison over the Royal Park incident has requested me to release him under a presidential pardon. I am contemplating on this because he has served his term on good behaviour. He went to prison at the age of 19 over an incident of impatience.”

SISTER CAROLINE POSING WITH HER MOTHER CHAMALKA: Today we live without a daughter and sister, yet all this is overlooked because he is supposedly reformed through acquiring a PhD in prison

Now for a brief recap on the case.

Shramantha Jayamaha receives an invite to attend a party to be held at the Glow night club on June 30, 2005 and invites his girlfriend Caroline to accompany him to the party. Caroline asks him whether her sister, Yvonne too can come with them. He immediately agrees. The two sisters arrive at his place on Bagatale Road in their father’s vehicle at around 8.30 pm. All three spend the night, night club crawling, hopping from one spot to the other. Caroline and Shramantha finally decide to call it a night and head back to Caroline’s apartment at Royal Park, whilst Yvonne stays at the club for a little longer. The couple arrive at Royal Park where both sisters lived with their parents. The time is 2.00 am. They proceed to Caroline’s bedroom where Caroline goes for a shower and Shramantha goes to the balcony to smoke a cigarette. Then some 20 minutes later, Shramantha leaves after telling Caroline “I love you forever”. The following day, Yvonne Johnson’s body is discovered on the staircase on the 19th floor.

During the Court trial, the prosecution leads evidence to show that on the request of Shramantha, his friend Rilvan came to Royal Park at 3.25 am in a cab to pick Shramantha up and left the premises at 3.30 am. The prosecution also leads evidence to show that Yvonne was found in a pool of blood, her jeans had been used to strangulate her, her face had been battered beyond recognition.

At the High Court, the judge finds Shramantha guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentences him to a term of 12 years. Shramantha and his family are not too happy with the verdict and appeals.

The Counsel from the Attorney General’s Department is the present Chief Justice today, Jayantha Jayasuriya. He appeals to the Court that the sentence did not fit the crime and calls for a more stringent sentence. The Appeal Court Judge who delivers the judgment of the Court is Justice Nalin Perera, later to become a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who delivered the judgment in last year’s Constitutional case where the President was found to have violated it by dissolving Parliament before its due date. Justice Nalin Perera does not increase it to life imprisonment but imposes the death penalty. As a consequence of further appeal lodged by Shramantha Jayamaha, the Supreme Court affirms the sentence of death imposed on him.  Case closed.

Now the question is whether the President, who is restrained by the temporary injunction granted by the Supreme Court from signing the death warrant and executing a prisoner condemned to death by the Judiciary, can pardon a death row inmate on mere whim and fancy or because his bleeding heart bid him so perform an act of mercy? Or whether it requires the Justice Ministry to first appoint a Committee to inquire to determine whether the murderer has been sufficiently rehabilitated and whether he is in a fit mental state to be released to society? Or whether a President’s opinion that a doctorate done in prison and a murder done ‘over an incidence of impatience’ are sufficient grounds to set a murderer free?

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