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Easter Sunday carnage: Challenge before AG

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On May 18, the then Attorney General Dappula de Livera said there had been a conspiracy behind the attacks that killed 269 people and injured over 500 on Easter Sunday in 2019. On May 15, he said in a letter to IGP C. D. Wickramaratne, that his department was unable to press charges or file indictments against the conspirators and abettors of the Easter Sunday attack as the CID had not completed its investigations.

De Livera also said that though Naufer Maulavi was a key conspirator, he couldn’t be considered the mastermind of the terror attacks. This runs counter to what the Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera has said.

The alleged conspiracy should be viewed against the backdrop of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) receiving specific intelligence relating to the Easter attacks.

On May 25 Attorney General de Livera retired, and Acting Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam was appointed as his successor.

Dappula de Livera handled the Easter Sunday inquiry right from its inception. He was the Solicitor General before being appointed as Attorney General on 29 April 2019, just eight days after the Easter Sunday attacks. De Livera succeeded Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, who was appointed the Chief Justice.

The Easter Sunday carnage took place on 21 April 2019. The AG’s serious accusation directed at the CID should be examined against the backdrop of him handling the Easter Sunday inquiry right from its inception.

According to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report that dealt with the Easter Sunday carnage, as well as the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), in 2017 the AG’s Department failed to act on information provided by the police in respect of suicide bomber Zahran Hashim. PSC and PCoI revealed how the AG’s Department literally sat on that particular file for two years. Was it negligence or could there be some other explanation.

The examination of the parliamentary debate on the Easter attacks, and other related statements made in Parliament this year, shows the need to review (i) the developments in the run-up to the 2019 Easter carnage, (ii) coordinated multiple attacks and (iii) the post-incident scenario.

High profile intervention was made by the AG in October last year, when the CID quietly released Riyajj Bathiudeen, in April 2020, in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks. Then, the suspect was re-arrested in April this year, in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Regardless of the person at the helm at the AG’s Department, the public expected the perpetrators of the heinous crime to be brought to justice.

President’s Counsel de Livera should explain what he really meant when he said the Easter Sunday carnage was a massive conspiracy.

The delay in addressing the post-Easter Sunday issues and concluding investigations into the carnage poses a threat to national security.

On May 19, Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara told Parliament the FBI confirmed that Maulavi (Islamic preacher) Mohamad Ibrahim Mohamad Naufer had masterminded the Easter Sunday bombings.

The Minister said the AG had already filed indictments against 16 suspects in the Kegalle High Court for damaging a Buddha Statue in Mawanella, and six suspects in the Puttalam High Court for storing explosives in Wanathawilluwa. Three more were indicted in the Kegalle High Court for the attempted murder of Mohammad Taslim, a key witness whose body is partially paralysed as a result of a gunshot to the head. Police believe Taslim was shot on the orders of Zahran Hashim, the ringleader of the suicide bombers that blew themselves up on April 21 2019. Mohammed Naufer Mohammed Yusri and Hejaaz Hizbullah and another were indicted for aiding and abetting terrorist activities in Gampaha and Puttalam High Courts.

Weerasekara said in November 2020, eight documents with charges were presented to the AG regarding the eight attacks that happened on Easter Sunday 2019. The PCol that probed the attack presented its findings to the AG in February this year. According to the Minister, from March 12 to April 24, a team of 54 police investigators, together with state counsels from the Attorney General’s Department, worked in a team led by a Senior Assistant Solicitor General to thoroughly analyse the evidence and facts under the personal supervision of the AG. Authorities have apprehended 704 individuals suspected of being connected to the bombings, according to Weerasekara.

Shortcomings in the investigation were reported to the police on April 24. The AG then resubmitted the report to the IGP on May 12, and by that time, the police had addressed most of the shortcomings and reported back to the AG’s Department, Weerasekara said. “We hope to attend to the rest of the shortcomings in the near future, after which the Attorney General can file indictments against suspects,” he added.

The new AG should probe his predecessor’s allegations against the CID as a national priority.

JUSTIN KEPPEITIYAGAMA

jdkgama02@gmail.com



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Opinion

An appeal to President

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This is to request President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to allow burial of COVID -19 infected corpses of Muslims in the burial ground close to the residence of the diseased instead of sending them to Otamaavadi. It goes without saying that all Health protocols and regulations will have to be stringently adhered to for the burial at the existing burial grounds.

I hope that this request will be granted as the experts in Virology have confirmed that there is no ground water contamination with the burial of those dying of Covid-19.

This will reduce considerably logistic issues and cost to both the State and the family members of the deceased and at the same time expedite burial.

Mohamed Zahran

Colombo

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Opinion

Talk Shows

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COVID-19 has opened up the doors for an umpteen number of “talk shows”: of various types, conveying different TV messages to our people on how to cope with the many daily problems faced by them, including the now prevailing pandemic.

At a time the public are very effectively advised by the relevant health authorities delegated with that task, and highly competent to educate the masses how to cope with this pandemic, what purpose these “shows” give our people hungry for news is left for anyone to guess.

Recently. I happened to watch two such talk shows telecast one after the other, where the same person was interviewed by two different interviewers on the same subject, as if competing with each other. More amusing was the pose shown to the camera by one of the interviewers at the end of the show, as if asking the viewers “how do you like my ‘show’?

These Talk Shows, similar to the virus, seem to be able to develop variants with time to cover other fields, too, such as economy, Port City, reforestation and lesser known local small industry entrepreneurs, diplomats and academics; and how to make Colombo a green city by a programme to plant thousands of trees to get off the ground immediately. Everyone knows that what is being planted are not trees but young plants, only a few weeks old, and no one knows when they will ever grow into a tree as imagined, if they survive the test of time and we are lucky to live till then. But repeating these shows as happening at the moment is a waste of time.

What I appreciated most in one special case was the liberal use of highly scientific jargon, even if the person to my imagination never studied science and more so the use of good English that was encouraging. But what worried me most was if someone else asked why these programmes are not conducted in Tamil?

Finally, the Telecom beats them all, where every call taken precedes a lengthy message on prevention of the Coronavirus pandemic, sometimes repeated twice. It all ends with the message only. But not the call.

 

Eng ANTON NANAYAKKARA

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Opinion

Protecting Sri Lanka’s maritime rights

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Your editorial, Poaching: Grasp the nettle (The Island of 09 June), provides a good analysis of the issue concerning the poaching of fishery resources in Sri Lanka waters, particularly in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.

The maritime boundary between Sri Lanka and India was settled by two agreements entered into by the two countries in 1974 and 1976. Accordingly, fishing vessels and fishers of the two countries were debarred from fishing in the waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone of each other.

Subsequently, the Maritimes Zones Law, No. 22 of 1976 was enacted with provisions for the President to declare the limits of the agreed maritime boundary between the two countries, and different maritime zones of Sri Lanka, such as the historic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, pollution prevention zone and the continental shelf. This law prohibits unauthorised fishing in any of the maritime zones of Sri Lanka by any foreign vessel. The President did declare the maritime zones of Sri Lanka by a proclamation published in the Gazette 248/1 of 15-01-1977. Since then unauthorized fishing by Indian vessels on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar became illegal.

However, part of the agreement relating to fishing has never been honoured by India, whose fishers continued to fish on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay, and on the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar, which jointly form the historic waters of Sri Lanka. According to the Presidential Proclamation, waters on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay form part of the internal waters of Sri Lanka while those on the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar form part of the territorial sea (provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 relating to internal waters and territorial sea do not contradict such declarations provided they are made on the provisions of the customary international law). On the other hand, although prior to signing of the Maritime Boundary Agreement of 1976, Sri Lankan fishing vessels were fishing in the Wadge Bank, which fell in the EEZ of India since the Agreement came into effect, no Sri Lankan vessels has been found fishing in that area.

At present, three days a week more than 1,000 Indian trawlers fish on the Sri Lanka side of the maritime boundary in violation of the law relating to fisheries in Sri Lanka. Any Sri Lankan vessel, irrespective of the part of Sri Lanka where it is fishing, should have been registered as a fishing vessel of Sri Lanka and obtained a fishing licence. Further, no such vessel is allowed to engage in mechanised bottom trawling.

There have been many discussions between the two countries since the 1990s to stop this illegal practice by Indian trawlers. Such discussions only end up with agreed minutes, but no solution. Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act, No 59 of 1979 provides for a High Court Judge to impose a penalty of a fine of Rs. 1.5 million on any foreign vessels engaged in unauthorised fishing in Sri Lanka waters. However, this provision was never used against any Indian trawler caught in Sri Lanka waters with unauthorised fishing, owing to practical difficulties. Subsequently, in 2017, the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Amendment) Act, No. 11 was enacted to impose a two-year jail term or a fine of at least Rs. 50,000 with a view to controlling this problem. Although the Sri Lanka Navy takes into custody Indian trawlers and hands them over with fishers to Fisheries authorities, the moment they get a letter from the Indian High Commission asking for their release, all are released. In this context, sinking unusable buses in the sea in this area appears to be a practical solution to the problem. For that also India has expressed objections. Sri Lanka has sovereign rights to take any decision in regard to its internal waters, and territorial sea (subject to the right of innocent passage of any foreign vessel) and historic waters (these form part of either internal waters or the territorial sea). Therefore, it is not necessary to stop this activity, just because India is objecting.

As regards the claim by India that Sri Lankan vessels also engage in unauthorised fishing in India waters, it should be noted that they are taken into custody rarely in very small numbers; that, too, mostly in the Indian EEZ, while they are returning after fishing in the Arabian sea. Any vessel has the right to navigation in the EEZ of any country. Even when innocent Sri Lankan fishers happen to be caught by the Indian authorities, they are made to suffer in Indian jails.

A few years earlier also, you expressed concern on this issue by an editorial, Saying it with fish, when Sri Lanka released all Indian fishers who were in jail in Sri Lanka pending trials, as a gesture of thanks for India’s vote at the UN in favour of Sri Lanka. Thank you for your concerns.

 

A. HETTIARACHCHI

hetti-a@sltnet.lk

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