Is a travesty of justice being played out against former Western Province Governor Azath Salley? The question arises as a result of what transpired on September 24, 2021 when the bail application filed on behalf Salley was taken before Colombo High Court Judge Manjula Tillekeratne and reported in the media the following day. Indictments had [...]


Discrepancy between original and edited version of Salley’s presser in the spotlight


Is a travesty of justice being played out against former Western Province Governor Azath Salley? The question arises as a result of what transpired on September 24, 2021 when the bail application filed on behalf Salley was taken before Colombo High Court Judge Manjula Tillekeratne and reported in the media the following day.

Indictments had been previously filed against Salley by the Attorney General in connection with a statement he made on March 9, 2021. Indictments had been filed against Salley for committing offences coming under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act.

When the bail application made by Salley before the Colombo High Court Judge Manjula Tillekeratne had been taken up on September 24, 2021 the Court was informed by Senior State Counsel Wasantha Perera appearing on behalf of the Attorney General that since the indictment had been filed in High Court Number 2, the Colombo High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the application for bail.

Colombo High Court Judge Manjula Tillekeratne then stated that he was unable to consider the bail application as indictments had already been filed against the accused before another court.

During the proceedings in the Colombo High Court it came to light that Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika C. Ragala had on an earlier occasion delivered an order holding that there appeared to be a strong discrepancy between the views expressed by Azath Salley during a press conference and the content of the edited version published by the media.

The Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika C. Ragala had made the order when an application that Salley be discharged from the case on the basis that there was no evidence to proceed against him for committing offences under Prevention of Terrorism Act and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act.

However, the Magistrate held that he had no power to discharge the suspect as Indictments had already been filed in the High Court based on the same press conference.

The Chief Magistrate had observed that if the entire unedited version of the press conference had been published, it would have been clear that the suspect had expressed an idea of building peace among the people and to rise up as one nation.

“The Court perused the unedited version and if the unedited version was shown to the public it was in fact about national harmony and rising up as one nation. The Criminal Investigations Department should look into persons who have distorted the original version to suit their necessities” the Chief Magistrate said.

If the findings of the Chief Magistrate are upheld it will be an uphill task to establish the Prosecution’s case against Azath Salley. In the meantime legal procedures and jurisdictional issues may delay his obtaining bail.

However in view of the order by the Colombo Chief Magistrate it is incumbent on the Attorney General to review the indictment against Salley and take appropriate action.

In accordance with the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s recommendation the Criminal Investigation Department should be directed to investigate the circumstances under which the original version of the press conference was doctored and action taken against the individuals concerned.

This is the second occasion in recent times that a doctored conversation has come to light.

The Sunday Times of August 1, 2021 reported that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal had established that the tape recording of a telephone conversation between former Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe and Avant Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadipathi which resulted in the interdiction of the Senior State Prosecutor had been edited and doctored.

Ms. Wickramasinghe was interdicted and sent on compulsory leave by the Public Service Commission (PSC) following the alleged conversation being uploaded on YouTube and broadcast over sections of the media in September, 2019.

There is no information in the public domain as to what further investigations have been conducted in order to ascertain the circumstances under which such doctoring of the telephone conversation took place.

It is probably the Attorney General’s Department which is best placed to initiate action to ensure that doctored or edited recordings of conversations or press conferences do not result in a miscarriage of justice.


Javid Yusuf’s reply to Public Security Minister Weerasekera

The views expressed by Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera in his reply to the “In the National Interest” column  published in the Sunday Times of September 26, 2021 warrant several  clarifications.

The minister has taken objection to the column’s assertion that his speech in Parliament had painted the Muslim community in a bad light. All that is required to verify this assertion of the Sunday Times column is to replay and listen to the minister’s speech in Parliament.

Criticism of the minister’s speech from different quarters including from supporters of the Government reconfirms the views expressed in the ST column that the minister’s speech did, in fact, paint the Muslim community in a bad light.

If such comments had been made publicly by an ordinary citizen it would have been bad enough. But when a Government minister holding the portfolio of Public Security publicly airs such views, ordinary  citizens will accept  such opinions as gospel truth and be prejudiced against the Muslim community.

With regard to the disparaging remarks made by Abdul Razik of the Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath  and the attacks on Buddhist statues in Mawanella, the Muslim community has  unequivocally condemned such actions. These actions are in total violation of the letter and spirit of Islamic teachings.

There is no doubt that anyone who breaks the law, irrespective of the community he belongs to, should be brought to book. That is why the Muslim community and the rest of the country are demanding with one voice that the masterminds behind the Easter Sunday attacks should be identified and justice be done to the victims of this heinous crime.

However, it would be wrong to make a particular community responsible for the actions of one or more errant members of that community. For instance, it will be wrong to blame the entire Buddhist community or Buddhism for the actions of the Ven. Gnanasara Thera.

The enlightened words of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern referring to the recent attack in Auckland on innocent civilians captures this well. “The perpetrator alone bears responsibility for these acts. The attack was carried out by an individual, not a faith, ethnicity or culture.”

With regard to the minister’s request for support to counter ISIS, the minister is probably unaware that the Muslim community made its position with regard to ISIS very clear as far back as July 2015.

Issuing a Joint Declaration on July 23, 2015, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the National body of Muslim theologians, together with several Muslim Organisations, condemned in unequivocal terms all forms of violence and extremism.

The joint declaration went on to point out that “Islam is a religion of mercy for all humanity. It is the fountainhead of Eternal Peace, Tranquility, Security and Brotherhood…. It regards oppression, mischief, rioting and murders amongst the severest sins and crimes.”

With regard to ISIS, the joint declaration went on to point out that “the IS (ISIS) is a violent extremist organisation which acts against the fundamental teachings of Islam. It is an absolutely deviant organisation which operates against all the principles and tenets of Islam.”

The Muslim community has not hesitated to condemn violence in any form and has at every turn cooperated with the Law Enforcement authorities. The ACJU and other Muslim organisations repeatedly brought to the notice of the authorities long before the Easter attacks the violence and unlawful actions of Zahran who was having a free reign in the Eastern Province despite there being several open warrants against him.

Even the much maligned Azath Salley at a news conference on March 15, 2017  stated that he had brought to the notice of the Police, NIB  and the Defence Secretary that  Zahran and others were unleashing violence in Kattankudy.

After the Easter Sunday attacks, the Muslim community in the Eastern Province gave its unstinted cooperation to the law enforcement authorities which helped, in no small measure, to dismantle the terrorist network. This fact was publicly acknowledged several times by the Army Brigadier who was in charge in the Eastern Province at that time.

In conclusion,  Minister Weerasekera’s statement that as a nation, we must all shed our differences, if any, and come together in cohesion to ensure unity, reconciliation and national security is something that we can agree wholeheartedly. However, to achieve this laudable goal, the Government must give the lead to create an enabling environment where all citizens and communities are treated equally and with dignity while taking all democratic actions to prevent evil forces from undermining such efforts.

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