Sirisena Cooray’s incarceration and the then Supreme Court


On the 15th June 1997 Sirisena Cooray who had been exonerated, by the Supreme Court of conspiracy, with others, to kill Lalith Athulathmudali. Justice Dheeraratne went on to make a statement that the evidence found by the Commission, headed by the late Tissa Dias Bandaranaike and G.W. Edussuriya was not even sufficient to hang a dead rat, received information that Cooray was to be taken into custody by the government on trumped-up charge that he (Cooray) had conspired to kill the President of Sri Lanka. After the Supreme Court ridiculed the findings of the Commission, Sirisena Cooray returned to Sri Lanka and the Government and Private media gave full publicity to his return.

Chandrika’s fear of Premadasa’s shadow continued even after his death as she strived to implicate his most faithful and loyal friend, Sirisena Cooray. I received a call from Cooray's residence saying that he had information that the Director of the CID, Sisira Mendis was to come to his residence to arrest him. I was there when Mendis came and I questioned him on the propriety of the arrest, the detention order and the charges. I told him that every accused or suspect under any law, should know why he is being arrested and what the charges are.

Thereafter, Mendis was very apologetic and said that he was investigating a conspiracy charge levelled against Cooray, which was to assassinate the President Kumarathunga. I said, they should then specifically mention what the charges are and if there is no charge, the arrest would be illegal. Sisira Mendis came with a number of policemen to the residence of Cooray, as if he was arresting a diehard criminal. When I asked him what the charges were he was nonplussed as the entire operation was supposed to be done without anyone knowing about it. Therefore, he least expected a lawyer to be present at the residence of Cooray at Lake Drive. When I questioned him and said that if he took Cooray into custody, we would be left with no alternative but to seek redress from the Supreme Court. Thereafter, Mendis whispered into my ear the details of which I cannot divulge to the public.

Cooray was taken to a Government house in Keppetipola Mawatha. It was a former residence of a civil servant. The CID officers cleaned the premises which was in a dilapidated state and kept Mr. Cooray under house arrest. The real reason for this arrest was the fact that he had returned from India after the Supreme Court had exonerated him. He was then arranging a massive rally to commemorate the death anniversary of the late President Premadasa. He also tried to revive the "Puravesi Peramuna", Premadasa's old political front which he created when Dudley and JR became friends.

There were secret reports submitted by the NIB to the President that Cooray's Puravesi Peramuna was gaining tremendous momentum in the country and that if he is permitted to continue to do his political work, it would create a serious dent in the popularity of the government. Chandrika thought that the best way out was to arrest him and keep him in custody. I believe even Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted the commemoration of Premadasa cancelled and to have the commemoration held jointly with the UNP. Desmond Fernando PC, who had earlier appeared for Cooray before the Supreme Court, along with Choksy, had been sent by Ranil Wickremesinghe as an emissary to plead with Cooray not to hold the commemoration for the late President Premadasa, under the political banner of the Puravesi Peramuna. He conveyed the message of Ranil Wickremesinghe to Cooray that if he stopped the commemoration President Kumaratunga, Chandrika might eventually release him from custody. Sirisena Cooray firmly said "I will remain in custody but the commemoration will proceed as arranged.

Thereafter, Cooray filed a case in the Supreme Court through his most loyal friend, Sunil Rodrigo. K.N.Choksy P.C. appeared for Mr Sunil Rodrigo the petitioner who had filed the petition for and on behalf of Cooray. Justice Dr. A.R.B. Amerasinghe was the most senior of the three judges of the Supreme Court. Chandirka had no direct or indirect influence over the judges of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment releasing Cooray from custody and this judgement was reported on all the important websites which espoused the cause of human liberty. I quote from the Sunday Times, 28th September 1997, wherein I wrote under the pen name of Mudliyar. I now leave it to the reader to judge whether we had an independent judiciary or not.

"Sirisena Cooray's judgment was a sensation in Sri Lanka. It was also published internationally as a landmark case on human liberty and freedom. Recently, one of the most respected Indian newspapers published the judgment with a comment, lauding the principles enunciated in the judgment and referring to the infamous period of Mrs. Gandhi's emergency rule. Mrs. Gandhi used the emergency powers to subvert human rights and liberty. So, it is necessary for us to dwell upon the judgment given in favour of Cooray again, and remind ourselves of the importance of liberty and other freedoms protected and guaranteed by this Constitution and enforced to the letter by the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of our freedom.

It is important to note that the Government has in the recent past been strangely remiss on some matters concerning the interpretation of many statutes, and the Constitution. The Supreme Court has on occasion shown that the Government has acted, without using or being unable to use the basic principles needed for good Governance. The UNP was accused of the same misdemeanours but they did the very same thing with more maturity, guile and dexterity.

The judgment of the Supreme Court on the Fundamental Rights case had been delivered. Cooray had been released from custody. The judgment in the opinion of many scholars and jurists will find its due place as a landmark judgment in the cause of liberty and freedom of the individual from the tyranny of the State. I am informed that jurists from other countries are making inquiries about obtaining copies of the full text of the judgment. There is a group of young lawyers with their knowledge of computers who are trying to have a web page on the Internet on Human Rights Cases in Sri Lanka and the first case that would be included will be the judgment of Justice Amerasinghe.

The judgment is an indictment on the Police and the bureaucracy of this country. The judgment was such an exacting indictment on their actions, that some media persons opined that if they had any moral potency left in them, they should resign.

To be continued next week

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