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Contempt of court and democracy

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Donald Trump has finally left the White House President Joe Biden is acting fast to revoke many of the Trump decisions affecting the US and the world.

The world is watching the new trend in the US, and the claims that Democracy has been restored. There will certainly be many more actions needed to restore or ensure Democracy in the USA  – because it needs much more than universal franchise. In fact, on the subject of universal franchise – Sri Lanka is far ahead of the US-nearly 70 years.  But, let’s be cautious in making any claim that we are a wholly a democratic nation or country…we  certainly need much more to claim that.

Democracy aside, we are now in the midst of a raging debate on the Judiciary. Film star-turned-politician, Ranjan Ramanayake is the stuff  of the debate here, with his four years rigorous imprisonment for the offence of Contempt of Court. Are we still in the colonial stage and thinking on Justice and Contempt? How fair, equitable and honourable, are our law and traditions on Contempt of Court?

We are now having a big issue whether India should be given 49% of the East Container Terminal in the Port of Colombo. There are also increasing and loud disapprovals on the delay in obtaining Covid-19 vaccines from India. Let’s put these aside, and with one of our most popular and thrice re-elected member of Parliament, having to face four years of rigorous imprisonment, see if we have in any way gone beyond the colonial days of subjugation under the British, on the matter of Contempt of Court —  a key factor of Justice. Are we ready to admit that this Hindu majority neighbour is far ahead of us in this key area of Justice? Or, should we just keep in line with the colonial rulers?

Let’s be honest – we have no proper law on Contempt of Court. We have a constitutional provision, which does not lay down the proper legal practice in dealing with this “offence” against the law. There is  no minimum or maximum sentence, no provision for appeal against a Supreme Court, which happens to be the only court where the case is heard. 

Is this the substance of Justice?     

Look at the realities. Ramanayake is accused of having insulted the judiciary and members of the legal profession. He said what he believed. Have they always been clean, above dishonesty and deceit, and what about his democratic right to freedom of speech and comment?  

We are still not too far away from a former Chief Justice, who acted in favour of a political leader in respect of Tsunami relief funds. He even admitted this several years later. Is that the stuff or substance of a non-corrupt judiciary?

Is this the situation in which Ranjan Ramanayake must suffer four years of rigorous imprisonment, and also lose his membership of Parliament, and be unable to contest a parliamentary election for many years to come?

Just look at Parliament he was in until last week and the judicial order for imprisonment; he has no other convictions. One member who was elected  after being found guilty of murder is allowed to participate in the House sittings with the consent of the Speaker. Another member who has been five years and more in remand custody is now fully free, after the Attorney General’s Department found evidence against him isufficient as regards the murder of a member of Parliament at a Christmas Day church ceremony in 2005. 

Just look at some of the Indian judgments on Contempt of Court. In the Bikram Birla Case on indecent, insulting comments on the judiciary the judgement was imprisonment for one month and a fine of Rs. 200.

More recently, Indian lawyer Prashant Bhooshan, who made on contemptuous statements via Twitter, was fined just one rupee, and brief imprisonment if the fine was unpaid.

Well-known journalist, author and social activist Arundhathi Roy, on charges of insulting the judiciary was sentenced to jail for one day. Shouldn’t we learn from this Indian trend? Another matter that comes to mind is whether it is proper for the institution (or persons) allegedly hurt by the actions or comments of a citizen, hear and give judgment on one’s own case? 

So, why not have a different judiciary – possibly with retired senior judges or persons with such experience and eminence – to hear cases of Contempt of Court?

Also, why not have proper legislation laying down the exact explanation of contempt and  the minimum and maximum punishments, as well as provisions to keep the guilty out of prisons on the basis of good behaviour? Isn’t this the stuff and substance of democracy.

We certainly don’t need either Joe Biden or the Queen of England to teach this. It is the task of our own lawmakers, including those sentenced by the courts who are now making our laws. 

This is the issue of justice and legality, together with civic rights and common sense that Ranjan Ramanayake has brought before us, as he suffers four years of rigorous imprisonment, that bothers the minds of democratic citizens.



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Opinion

An island of Pain and Destruction?

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When there are several ‘tivus’ in the North, why was Iranativu selected for Muslim Covid burials? Why select an island with people living there, with Catholic priests, too? Why not an island with no humans at all: Is that so difficult for the Burial Experts in the Covid management?

Looks like the disposal of dead bodies, if they happen to be of Covid-infected Muslims, is the biggest problem Sri Lanka is facing  today. This is bigger than any economic issue, or any other aspects of development the country and people may be facing. It looks like there is no possibility for a “Saubhagye Dekma” or Vision of Prosperity & Splendour if any Covid Muslims are buried in this Sinhala Bauddha Dupatha.

We tried to send these bodies all the way to the Maldives, on an official request. But failed. This time it is Iranativu – and once again a failure.  So why not keep trying at Neduntivu, Sampaltivu, Vidataltivu or any other ‘tivu’ in the North or East; and till a suitable place is found, keep the dead bodies frozen at taxpayer expenditure? 

Now that the US has decided to take some un-Trump moves about Saudi Arabia, why does not the former and present US citizens  that rule Sri Lanka, think of sending all Covid Muslim corpses to Saudi Arabia, for sacred burials? With the Saudi leaders thinking of new plans for investment, Sri Lanka could become a new target of Saudi funds pouring in. But will this lead to the Sri Lankan Muslims getting any stronger than they are now?

Or, will we wait till we discover or develop a new “Gotativu or Nandasenativu” off Sri Lanka, an Isle of Saubhagya?

Are the Indian Aircraft flying in the special  70-year celebrations of the Sri Lanka Air Force an assurance of new Indian warmth  in Sri Lanka-India relations?  Did the power of the Indian Air Force, displayed over Galle Face Green, make the government take a quick pro-Indian decision on the West Container Terminal (WCT) in the Port of Colombo? 

Can President Gotabaya or PM Mahinda give any explanation why handing over the development of the WCT to the same Indian company, involved in the ECT, could be any better for Sri Lanka? Apart from the Port Trade Unions  that are likely to launch a new protest, will the Weerawansa-Gammanpila-Vasudeva team also carry out protests about the WCT? Or, will they be silenced by the realities of pro-Gotabaya Politics? 

Has Gotabaya Team’s new position that the Provincial Council elections will be held under the new Constitution, an assurance given to India  that the 13h Amendment will remain part of the structure of governance in Sri Lanka? What happened to all those voices of the Pohottuva political players who had virtually written off the 13A? Have they been silenced by the flight of Indian aircraft in the Air Force celebrations?

The Nandasena Gotabaya Team of the Rajavasala had better think of how the yellow robes of sections of the Maha Sangha would react to the WCT deal with India? 

The problems of Iranativu and the WCT or Muslim burials  and the Port of Colombo are certainly pushed back by the realities of Geneva. The Sri Lankan TV stations that have been very strong in their criticism of Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, about her handling of Human Rights, have given big coverage to her statements critical of the Myanmar coup and its military leaders. Will Michelle Bachelet have a big score against Sri Lanka? Keep guessing.

The issues facing Sri Lanka in Geneva are more about the policies of the present Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajavasala, than issues involving the defeat of the LTTE and matters of responsibility and accountability in the post-war period. 

The Easter Carnage that took place, long after the end of the war against LTTE terror, and under the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Yahapalana regime, is certainly at the height of the Rajavasala problems today. Having promised the people that the truth about this carnage will be found and revealed, and the planners and manipulators identified and punished, the Rajavasala is trying to escape its promises and responsibilities. 

This is certainly no easy task as it involves the hopes and expectations of many thousands who voted for the Gotabaya and the Pohottuva at the last Presidential and General Elections. Just look at the thousands in the Wattala-Negombo area who turned away from the UNP, did not support the Sajith Premadasa – Telephone, – and voted for the Pohottuva. It was the biggest Catholic turn away from the UNP, as took place in votes for the left in 1956.

We are now moving to a Black Sunday, when Catholics have been asked to wear black in protest at church services, seeking divine intervention to reveal and punish the Easter Sunday killers nearly two years ago. The response that divinity will provide remains to be seen, but with the voice of the Catholic Cardinal echoing the pain of hundreds who have suffered in this carnage, we are certainly moving to a period of much sorrow and even disaster.

Black Sunday may come and go, but by April this year, when black flags are to fly over houses, mainly Catholic, throughout the country, we certainly face a new rise of a major Majority/Minority conflict. Do we have to think of the possible revival of all the pains of the war against the LTTE terror, or think more in terms of peace and cooperation among people, with or without divine intervention.

This will certainly not be easy in the coming months, as we see so much of nature destroyed, forests cut down, sand mined and transported without permits, the greenery of the country rapidly vanishing and only hearing the call of a painful Saubhagya! 

Will the call for Divine Help bring us to be an Isle of Peace and Understanding, and not a large Isle of Pain and Destruction?

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Opinion

Go forth boldly against global enemies

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At the UNHRC meeting the true friends of Sri Lanka emerged to speak and defend the country battered mercilessly for defeating the world most brutal terrorist organization, i.e., Tamil Tiger terrorists in 2009, who held 20 million Sri Lankans to ransom for well over 25 years.

Leading the Sri Lanka bashing were the UK. Germany. Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands. Belgium and the USA, all of them having a chequered history in violating human rights at different times. India, our friendly neighbour, while thankfully taking a fair distance from the punitive stance of others, opted to emphasize on “the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils and their ‘aspirations’ insisting on the FULL implementation of the 13 A”. India should be requested to point out whether any Tamil person in Sri Lanka is deprived from enjoying a basic right because he or she is being purely a Tamil. On the 13th A, which was thrust on Sri Lanka along with the so-called Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, most Sri Lankans are of the view that it was a faulty restructuring effort of Sri Lanka’s government by India, and the Police and Land powers under the 13 A are a direct threat to the sovereign Sri Lanka. Further, the Provincial government system has not benefited Sri Lanka in any measurable manner, and has been an exercise in colossal wastage of hard-earned funds of the central government.

As regards aspirations, we are amazed how we can consider ONLY the aspirations of Tamils, as all other ethnic groups and the individuals too have aspirations, and it will be impossible to walk that talk. We need further training in the recognition of aspirations of different groups from India, and we pray for further comments from the HR specialists in India how they have reconciled the aspirations of other than Hindu religious groups — Sheiks, Kashmiris and other minority groups in Northernmost India.

But, many nations at UNHCR rejected the proposition of the Sri Lanka bashers who directly and indirectly were supportive of the LTTE armed insurrection and the separatism, threatening the unitary Sri Lanka. They also rejected the ‘the preventive prescription’ of the Secretary General Bachelet. The nations who supported Sri Lanka stood for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a democratic country. Any weaknesses in Sri Lankan affairs should be allowed to be rectified domestically, in keeping with the constitutional provisions of the country, rather than to be dictated and decided upon by the holier than thou sloganeers. Most of the nations who attempt to foist their plan on Sri Lanka are from the Western bloc who killed and maimed millions of persons living in the colonized countries and subsequently destroyed other nations as pawns of the world power games. Their “adherence”to human rights are completely at variance with their practices on the ground.

Now, Sri Lanka should re-examine their directions and resolve to work with the friendly nations who supported her to extricate from the trap laid out by the countries who desire an unstable Sri Lanka. The Government and the people should resolve to reduce our dependence on Sri Lanka bashers, and re-design our imports to suit the geo-political reality and to avoid any plot to impose sanctions by the wounded nations. Time has arrived to consider the nation’s priorities by curtailing the luxuries even for a given period. We should try to get our requirements from the friendly nations, and try to improve our trading relationship with our friends.

This the ONLY way to extend our hand to REBUILD a new world order, to be less dependent on the predatory countries who always insist on their pound of flesh from the developing nations. While we thank the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Government for having rejected co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1 at UNHRC, we urge the Government to plan to reshape our trade and foreign relations, to play our role as an independent member of the international community.

 

RANJITH SOYSA

 

 

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Opinion

Gama Samaga Pilisandara  Round 2

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Gotabaya Rajapakse’s election manifesto “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” says on its page 4, “This policy document tilted ‘A Vision for a Resurgent, Prosperous Country’ is the result of a series of discourses, ‘interaction with the village’, conducted in 25,000 villages throughout our country during the past one year. We have identified the requirements of housing, electricity, drinking water, access roads, and irrigation facilities in every village”. That is about 65 villages per day and as we have only about 14,000 Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions, coverage would have been about 100 GN divisions in a day. Whatever it is, why did the President decide to repeat this discourse? Is it because he does not accept what was given in his Manifesto as true or is he trying to restore the trust people had in him which is fast dwindling? President may also be thinking that as most of the masses in urban areas who voted for him have become disillusioned with his government’s performance, it would be more prudent to resolve some minor issues in the villages and keep them still faithful to him.

 Rohana Wijayawardhana

 

 

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