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Avant Garde prosecution fiasco: Ukrainian Captain of the ship finally released



Unsuccessfully moved SC in 2017 in FR case

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A Ukrainian national Gennardily Gavrylov is among eight persons acquitted by the Permanent High Court Trial-at-Bar in a high profile case filed against them over operation of a floating armoury  (MV Avant Garde) chartered by Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS).

The vessel belonging to Sri Lanka Shipping Company Limited has been chartered in terms of an agreement between AGMS and Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL), a government-owned business undertaking affiliated to the Defence Ministry, for deployment in East Africa to help fight sea piracy.

The AGMS vessel has been deployed to provide services in support of international naval operations meant to protect shipping off the Somali coast

Having chartered MV Merou, the AGMS, a subsidiary of Avant Garde Security Services (Pvt) Limited, named it MV Avant Garde.

Sources said that though Gavrylov has been granted bail during the proceedings, he wasn’t allowed to leave the country. Gavrylov, Captain of the vessel, in spite of being released on May 21 is yet to leave the country.

The other seven released were Avant Garde Chairman retired Commando Major Nissanka Senadhipathi, Retired Navy Commodore Vishvajith Nandana Diyabalanage, Don Albert Tillakaratne, Victor Samaraweera, who served as Chairman of RALL, Nilupul de Costa, Retired Air Vice-Marshal Ponnathurai Balasubramanium Premachandra and Former Additional Defence Secretary Saman Dissanayake

The case was heard before a three-judge bench comprising Justices Aditya Patabendige, Manjula Tillakaratne and Mahen Weeraman.

Declaring the May 21 verdict Justice Patabendige said that one-time Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who subsequently served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Germany told the court that the Defence Ministry issued permission to AGMS and RALL to deploy the vessel carrying arms and ammunition in the Red Sea.

In January this year  the court released five suspects namely the RALL (first accused) , AGMS (second accused), former Rakna Lanka Chairman, retired Major General Waduge Palitha Piyasiri Fernando (third accused), former Rakna Lanka CEO, retired Major General Karunaratna Banda Adhikari Egodawele (fourth accused) and the twelfth accused former Senior Additional Defence Secretary Damayanthi Jayaratne owing to the inability to maintain the charges under the Firearms Ordinance and the Explosives Ordinance.

Gavrylov during the previous administration moved the Supreme Court against what the petitioner called his wrongful, unjustifiable and illegal arrest off Galle on the morning of Oct 6, 2015 and the continuing detention. There hadn’t been a previous case of a foreigner filing a fundamental rights violation application here under such circumstances in terms of Article 11, Article 12 (1), Article 13 (1), and Article 13 (2) of the Sri Lanka Constitution.

The petitioner alleged he was subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment through the false accusation that he had entered Sri Lankan territorial waters. Gavrylov took over the command of the vessel on July 24, 2015.

The petitioner alleged that SLNS Nandimithra, a fast missile vessel (FMV), had taken ‘MV Avant Garde’ into custody in international waters 15 nautical miles from the baseline. According to him, though the vessel was to be delivered to Sri Lanka Shipping Company as per instructions received in Aug 2015, he received subsequent instructions through proper channels to reach Galle port.

Gavrylov claimed that a seven-member squad of SLN personnel had boarded the vessel at 7.15 am, on Oct 6, 2015, after he refused directives issued by the SLN to proceed towards the Galle port and drop anchor near the Galle port. Initially, Gavrylov had been directed to proceed towards Panadura and drop anchor.

The Deputy Harbour Master of Galle who is also the Acting Residential Manager of the Galle port in his statement too had admitted that the vessel was seized outside territorial waters of Sri Lanka, the petitioner alleged. The then 49-year-old Gavrylov, father of one, filed the FR petition in the wake of Ukraine intervening on his behalf.

On a directive given by the Galle Magistrate’s court the vessel was handed over to Sri Lanka Shipping Company on Dec 16, 2016 and left for India on the following day. The vessel was scrapped at Alang scrapyard in Gujarat.

The vessel had been chartered for a period of two years with effect from April 1, 2014 to operate in the Red Sea.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration alleged that the then Defence Secretary now President Gotabaya Rajapaksa handed Senadhipathi a lucrative contract to provide maritime security services to protect international shipping passing the region from pirates, without following proper procedures, a charge denied by Rajapaksa.

The seizure of MV Avant Garde sharply divided the yahapalana administration. The then Law and Order and Prisons Reforms Minister Tilak Maparana, PC, quit the Cabinet after strongly criticizing the action taken against Senadhipathy’s operation. The then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, too, opposed the move whereas Messrs Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the then leader of the Democratic Party Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, the JVP and civil society groups campaigned against Senadhipathi’s outfit. The then Minister and present UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath were also accused of backing what they called an illegal operation.

Before giving up ministerial portfolio, one-time Attorney General and UNP National List lawmaker Marapana compared the seizure of MV Avant Garde with the exposure of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) run safe house at Aturugiriya in January 2002.

The former Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, alleged during the period from 07 August 2012 to 8 January 2015, the government suffered a financial loss of Rs. 11.4 billion rupees as a result of AGMS being given an opportunity to operate a floating armory. The AG on August 21, 2019 requested the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya (his predecessor as AG) to nominate a three-judge Trial-at-Bar in the Colombo High Court with no jury, to hear the case.

At the time the SLN seized the vessel Yuvanjana Wijetillake, PC, functioned as the AG.

The AG was to prosecute the 13 accused on 7,573 charges. However, the Permanent High Court Trial at Bar said of the 7573 counts filed against the accused, only 19 could be carried forward in the case.

The Permanent High Court Trial at Bar told AG to consider proceeding with the case under the 19 charges filed against the 08 accused (those acquitted on May 21, 2021)

The amended indictment filed by the AG, too, was dismissed on the basis it was contrary to the law and the trial could not proceed even with the amended indictment.



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People to get fuel price shock soon



The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes  would be revealed soon.

The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.

“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.

Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.

The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.

The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody



Report called by June 13

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.

In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.

HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.

Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.

Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.

Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause  in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.

Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and  March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.

Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.

In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.  

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.

The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.



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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.

Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions  too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.

“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.

College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.

“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.

“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said

President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.

Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.

“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely  to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.

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