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Ratwatte’s prison raids: Probes a farce, State Minister protected, TNA alleges

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‘Govt. actions make promises on domestic mechanisms a joke’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday (26) accused the government of having suppressed a proper investigation into death threats the then Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte issued to a group of ex-LTTE cadres held at the Anuradhapura prison on the late afternoon of 12 Sept.

Batticaloa District TNA lawmaker Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam told The Island that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was yet to record the statements of those threatened by Ratwatte, who continued to be the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related industries.

Rasamanickam said so after meeting eight of those who had been threatened by the Kandy District MP. He accompanied TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and Acting General Secretary of the party on Saturday (25) to Anuradhapura, where they spoke to eight out of the 10 ex-LTTE cadres threatened by MP Ratwatte.

Responding to another query, MP Rasamanickam said they had been able to meet only eight inmates. One of them informed the TNA delegation that he didn’t want to cause himself further trouble.

MP Rasamanickam said that the prisoner’s concerns were quite legitimate as the police proved incapable of handling the investigation.

Referring to a special statement made by Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera on Sept 17 regarding IGP C.D. Wickremaratne being instructed to initiate an inquiry into the complaint in respect of MP Ratwatte received by the CID on the previous day, MP Rasamanickam asked for the status of the inquiry.

The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on Sept 16 urging the immediate arrest of MP Ratwatte. CPRP President Attorney at Law Senaka Perera yesterday told The Island that in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code Section 109 (1) the police could have initiated an inquiry without receiving a complaint. Perera alleged that Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake were guilty of dereliction of duty as public officers of the State by both aiding and abetting in Ratwatte’s actions. Perera also pointed out that the CID never contacted them in spite of issuance of the receipt for having recorded their statement.

MP Rasamanickam said that ex-LTTE cadres requested that they be moved to the Jaffna prison and cases against them heard as quickly as possible. The TNA spokesperson said that Anuradhapura incident on Sept. 12 wouldn’t have taken place if the Prisons administration took tangible measures following MP Ratwatte’s drunken raid on the Welikada prison on Sept 6. The government should explain its failure to respond to the Sept.6 raid, MP Rasamanickam said, pointing out the absurdity in underscoring the importance of domestic accountability mechanisms at a time those in judicial custody weren’t safe. The TNA would take up Ratwatte’s matter with the visiting EU delegation.

Asked whether the TNA would use Welikada and Anuradhapura drunken escapades by a Minister to push for required amendments for the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), MP Rasamanickam pointed out that they had been campaigning against the PTA for some time. “There is absolutely no connection between our representations to the EU and other members of the international community as regards the PTA and the death threats directed at ex-LTTE cadres,” MP Rasamanickam said.

The EU delegation is scheduled to meet the TNA tomorrow (28). MP Rasamanickam asserted that the EU delegation would primarily take up the apparel workers’ conditions at apparel factories and the PTA. Those who had received death threats from an intoxicated lawmaker brandishing a weapon at Anuradhapura prison couldn’t tell the TNA delegation the full story as two jail guards sat with the lawmakers throughout their interaction with the prisoners. MP Rasamanickam quoted prisoners as having told them they were ordered out and directed to sit down on ‘L’ shape. Later, the MP repeatedly demanded them to tell him the truth.

MP Rasamanickam alleged that the Prisons Department would have quietly hushed up the incidents if not for the print and electronic media coverage and the social media taking it up. Asked whether he appreciated the appointment of retired High Court judge Sarojini Kusala Weerawardena to inquire into the incidents, MP Rasamanickam said that no such investigation was required if the police moved against the wrongdoer in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The MP pointed out the continuing controversy over the government failure to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. “What happened to the investigation undertaken by retired HC judge Weerawardene into the Mahara prison riots in late Nov. 2020,” MP Ramamanickam asked. That committee also included the Chief Legal Advisor to the Justice Ministry U.R. de Silva, PC, a former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, MP Rasamanickam said, urging the government not to suppress the investigation.

The TNA MP said that by the time they met Anuradhapura prisoners, their statements had been recorded by the Prisons Department and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Well informed sources said that the appointment of a retired HC judge to probe prison incidents had been made on the recommendation of the cabinet. MP Rasamanickam said that the incidents involving the State Minister has set a new record. “Now in addition to the promised police investigation, the Prisons, HRC and retired judge are inquiring into the Ratwatte affair,” MP Rasamanickam said, adding that the much touted pohottuwa slogan ‘One country, one law’ is nothing but a joke.

Ratwatte incidents in the run-up to the 48th Geneva sessions and 76th session of the UNGA ruined the country’s image, the lawmaker said. The TNA spokesman challenged the government to prove its sincerity by taking tangible measures pertaining to prison raids.

The SLPP’s response to the prison raids should be compared with its demand to Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila to resign over his announcement regarding fuel price increase in June. The SLPP found fault with Minister Gammanpila for making an announcement on behalf of the government. But, the same party had no issue over one of its members threatening prisoners in judicial custody.

MP Rasamanickam said that among those held at Anuradhapura prison were ex-LTTE cadres from Batticaloa. However, State Minister Ratwatte was seen in Batticaloa on Saturday, MP Rasamanickam said. How can there be a proper investigation when the prisoners and prison department personnel realize the possibility of Ratwatte returning to the Prisons Management and Prisoner’s Rehabilitation Ministry MP Rasamanickam asked.

The first-time entrant to national politics said the TNA would pursue this issue both in and outside parliament.



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Prelates launch legal battle against New Fortress

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by A. J. A. Abeynayake

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera yesterday filed a fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court against the transfer of shares of the Yugadanavi LNG Power Plant in Kerawalapitiya to a US energy firm.

The petition seeks an order preventing the US firm New Fortress Inc. from obtaining the LNG supply contract.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, other members of the Cabinet, West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant, the US-based company New Fortress Energy and the Attorney General are among the 54 respondents named in the FR petition.

The petition requests the court to issue an order to nullify the Cabinet decision on transferring state-owned shares of the Yugadanavi power plant to the US company.

The petition states that the decision taken by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer 40% stake in the company owning the Yugadanavi Power Plant to the US firm in question was not justified. It also says the Cabinet failed to focus on issues such as the national economy and national security before taking the relevant decisions.

The petitioners have requested the Court to declare that their fundamental rights as well as the rights of the entire citizenry and their future generations guaranteed to them under Article 12(1) of the Constitution have been infringed and/or are continuing to be infringed and/or are in imminent danger of being infringed by the actions of the Respondents with regard to the Yugadanavi deal.

They have requested the Court to quash the decision of the Cabinet authorising the procurement of LNG from the 53rd respondent – the New Fortress Energy.

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Financial crisis so acute teachers’ demands cannot be met – SLPP Chairman

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300,000 entering schools for first time this year among those victimised

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (18) emphasised that the worsening financial crisis experienced by the country was so acute the government wasn’t in a position to grant the salary increase sought by school principals and teachers.

Prof. Peiris, who served as the Education Minister till August this year said that the public realised the government lacked the wherewithal to meet the striking teachers’ demands. The academic said so at the weekly SLPP media briefing at the party office in Battaramulla.

Responding to media queries, Prof. Peiris stressed that the government expected the striking teachers to facilitate re-opening of schools on a staggered basis beginning Oct 21 (Thursday). The Minister indicated that striking unions shouldn’t expect to settle the salary issue on their terms as the government lacked the means even if it wanted to do so.

Referring to the rapid deterioration of public finances in the wake of Covid-19 eruption in early 2020, Prof. Peiris said that Budget 2022 was presented amidst an extremely difficult time.

The top SLPP spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to grant strikers’ demand in two stages as announced by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with striking unions at Temple Trees. Premier Rajapaksa on Oct 12 told a delegation of striking unions that the government would pay one third of the increase through the Budget 2022 and the remaining two in the following year’s budget.

The Premier’s Office quoted him as having told the delegates that the sharp drop in government income deprived the administration of an opportunity to grant the increase. Striking unions want the government to settle the issues immediately in one go.

Prof. Peiris appealed to those who have been on strike for 100 days to resume teaching. The student community really suffered due to the Covid 19 eruption and further delay in resuming studies would be catastrophic, Prof. Peiris said, underscoring the importance of restoring normalcy as about 300,000 would go to schools for the first time in their life.

Prof. Peiris said that schools that conduct classes from Grade 1 to 5 and those with less than 200 students would be re-opened on Oct 21. According to the minister, approximately 3,800 schools would be re-opened as scheduled.

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Lankan authorities must end violence and discrimination against Muslims, says AI

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Kyle Ward, AI’s Deputy Secretary General

The Lankan Muslim community has suffered consistent discrimination, harassment and violence, since 2013, culminating in the adoption of government policies explicitly targeting the minority group, said Amnesty International, in a new report published yesterday.

The report titled From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination and Violence in Sri Lanka, traces the development of anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka since 2013 amid surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. This discrimination has evolved from a rising series of mob attacks committed with impunity, into government policies explicitly discriminating against Muslims, including the forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims and current proposals to ban both the niqab (face veil) and madrasas (religious schools).

“While anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka is nothing new, the situation has regressed sharply in recent years. Incidents of violence against Muslims, committed with the tacit approval of the authorities, have occurred with alarming frequency. This has been accompanied by the adoption by the current government of rhetoric and policies that have been openly hostile to Muslims,” said Kyle Ward, Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General.

“The Sri Lankan authorities must break this alarming trend and uphold their duty to protect Muslims from further attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and end the use of government policies to target, harass and discriminate against the Muslim community.”

Incidents of violence towards Muslims have risen in frequency and intensity since 2013, with a series of flashpoints in which attackers and those responsible for hate speech have enjoyed impunity for their actions.

This escalating hostility began with the anti-halal campaign of that year, when Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups successfully lobbied to end the halal certification of food, which demarks food permissible for consumption by Muslims, in accordance with Islamic scripture and customs. The campaign gave rise to a number of attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, with the lack of accountability for those responsible acting as a signal to others that acts of violence against Muslims could be committed with impunity.

The following year, anti-Muslim riots in the southern coastal town of Aluthgama began after a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist group held a rally in the town. Here too, perpetrators of violence enjoyed impunity and authorities failed to deliver justice to victims.

Despite a new government in 2015, which promised justice and accountability for ethnic and religious minorities, attacks against Muslims continued to occur. Shortly after the election, anti-Muslim mob violence flared in the southern coastal town of Ginthota in 2017, while similar violence was seen in 2018 in Digana and Ampara, towns in the central and eastern provinces respectively. Not only did the perpetrators escape accountability, victims and witnesses alleged the police and armed forces did not offer sufficient protection or act to prevent the violence.

Hostility towards Muslims increased markedly after more than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide attacks committed by a local Islamist group and claimed by the Islamic State on Easter Sunday 2019.

Following these attacks, on 13 May 2019, Muslims in several towns in the North-Western Province of Sri Lanka came under attack during Ramadan, one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. Mosques across the country were also attacked and a spate of ‘hate speech’ posts and anti-Muslim vitriol was seen on social media. Emergency regulations rushed through by the authorities were also used to arbitrarily arrest hundreds of Muslims in the wake of the attacks.

Since taking office, the current government has continued to target and scapegoat the Muslim population to distract from political and economic issues.

This was evident in the mandatory cremation policy on the disposal of the bodies of Covid-19 victims, which was implemented despite cremation being expressly forbidden in Islam, and a lack of scientific evidence to substantiate the claims that burying victims would further the spread of the disease.

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