• We must be grateful that there still remains in our judiciary, judicial officers who still value principles, the rule of law and the proper dispensation of justice above pandering to politicians to enhance their career prospects

 The release of the incarcerated Wasantha Mudalige, convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) from charges related to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the observations made by the Magistrate during his release are a slap in the face of the Police and the Attorney Generals’ Department and, in a mature democracy, would have resulted in the resignation of the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General. That is why the issue merits more discussion.

This however is Sri Lanka where high public officials have no sense of shame even when they have been exposed by a courageous and independent judiciary, so they will carry on. Worse still, they may even be rewarded for their actions in bending over backwards to please their political gods. In contrast, Magistrate Alwis might have done his career prospects some harm by his bold and impartial decision.

Mudalige’s legal team led by Bar Association President Saliya Peiris and the indefatigable Nuwan Bopage must also be commended for their tenacity and perseverance in pursuing this case to its logical conclusion in the face pressure from the government and numerous other attempts to obstruct the dispensation of justice.

Mudalige has spent over 160 days in detention following his incarceration under the PTA. He was detained under provisions of the draconian legislation soon after Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed duties as President.

Last week, Colombo Chief Magistrate Prasanna Alwis ordered the release of the student leader. However, it was what Magistrate Alwis noted in delivering his verdict that raised many eyebrows. It laid bare the plan to detain and harass Mudalige under whatever pretext that was available and exposed the Police and the Attorney general’s Department for what they are, spinless slaves of their political masters.

Chief Magistrate Alwis noted that although the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) had produced statements made by Piyumal Samarasinghe, also known as ‘Motivation Appachchi’, against Mudalige, it failed to submit sufficient evidence in court to prove them.

Chief Magistrate Alwis observed that TID had also been unable to prove the evidence submitted by another witness, Gemunu Wijeratne, who claimed that groups such as the IUSF had been funded by global terrorist organisations. Wijeratne’s statement that Mudalige exchanged money with foreign terrorist organizations is a claim without evidence and was therefore merely a statement, the Chief Magistrate said.

Chief Magistrate Alwis then pointed out that during the protest demonstration, a Police Inspector named Wijeyamuni had provided a statement to the Police, that he had been assaulted by the suspect concerned, but noted that evidence submitted, had proved otherwise.

The court also observed that an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) named Rodrigo had provided a statement to the Police on 1 January this year, that the suspect had insulted him in front of the Police Department, but that the Court is not convinced with the authenticity or the transparency of the ASP’s statement. The Court concluded that the Inspector had fabricated the statement to the Police, with the intention of further incarcerating the suspect.

The Chief Magistrate opined in his release order that the dubious and contradictory statements given to the Police by some of their own officers had clearly shown the intent of those officers, to create the impression that they had been physically accosted and verbally insulted by the suspect, while misusing the Provisions of the PTA, to imprison him.

Chief Magistrate Alwis added that perusal of evidence produced before him had convinced him that the TID had wilfully misused the provisions of the PTA, to incarcerate the suspect via concocted statements by various Police Officers.

At the time of writing, Mudalige had been released on bail over three more charges made against him but remains detained as still other charges are pending in court. His legal team are working to get Mudalige released from detention over all these charges.

Chief Magistrate Prasanna Alwis’s observations on Mudalige’s detention under the PTA exposes what the Police and the Attorney General’s Department have been reduced to- highly politicised organisations which act on the dictates of ministers- or perhaps even the President- and do their bidding, no questions asked.

Mudalige’s legal team have already said they will be pursuing legal action against those responsible for his unjustified detention, They certainly should, so the individuals responsible can be held personally responsible for their actions.

It is only then, and only then, that government officers will realise that although they may carry out orders on behalf of politicians, those politicians will not be able to save them when they are charged with perverting the course of justice or the abuse of power. It is only such a deterrent that will prevent state officials from acting in such a slavish manner in the future.

Another key aspect of note here is that Mudalige’s detention order under the PTA was signed by none other than President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as Minister of Defence. The legislation states the Minister of Defence should be satisfied that the detainee meets the high threshold for detention as specified in the PTA. As Chief Magistrate Alwis has so clearly demonstrated, that has not been the case. Wickremesinghe went ahead and signed the detention order in the face of a public outcry against his decision.

Therefore, it must follow that President Wickremesinghe is also culpable at least to some extent in this instance. Of course, charges cannot be instituted against him because he enjoys immunity from proceedings by virtue of holding office as President. However, that immunity does not last forever, as former President Maithripala Sirisena discovered recently over the Easter bomb attacks, much to his discomfort and embarrassment.

In the Easter attacks case, Sirisena was found to be negligent, not directly but for the lapses of key senior officers he had appointed. In this instance however, it was Wickremesinghe himself who personally signed the detention order against Wasantha Mudalige and that must make him that much more culpable.

We would leave that for Mudalige’s legal team to ponder. For now though we must be grateful that there still remains in our judiciary, judicial officers who still value principles, the rule of law and the proper dispensation of justice above pandering to politicians to enhance their career prospects.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here