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Editorial

The strange case of Naufer

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Thursday 8th April, 2021

Public Security Minister, Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera, would have the public believe that the Easter Sunday terror mastermind has been identified. He has said ‘Naufer Moulavi’, who masterminded the attacks, is in custody. Interestingly, not even the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday carnage, for months on end, was able to find the mastermind behind the savage terror attacks!

How can the government say with certainty that Naufer masterminded the terror attacks? True, he was the theoretician of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) led by Zahran Hashim, and played a key role in indoctrinating the NTJ cadres. He also wielded some influence on Zahran, but there were occasions when they had disagreements. Naufer was only the second in command of the NTJ, according to Chapter 16 (Profiles of Key Individuals) in the PCoI report. It is doubtful whether the NTJ theoretician would have been able to carry out a serious task like planning terror attacks. One may recall that Anton Balasingham was the theoretician of the LTTE, but Prabhakaran did not allow him to get involved in planning any terror strikes. Is it that Naufer has sought to put investigators off the scent by claiming to be the mastermind so that the real mastermind/s will be safe?

Even if it is true that Naufer masterminded the Easter Sunday attacks, it needs to be found out whether he, too, had a handler, local or foreign.

Naufer was not the only source of inspiration for Zahran, who had foreign connections. The PCoI report (page 218) quotes the then State Intelligence Service Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena as having said that an Indian named Abu Hind may have triggered the attacks. It says, “He [Jayawardena] went on to imply that the intelligence agencies that provided him with the intelligence on 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 may have had a hand in the attack.” It then quotes an international expert on terrorism: “According to his [the expert’s] testimony, Abu Hind was a character created by a section of a provincial Indian intelligence apparatus. The intelligence that the Director SIS received on 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 was from this operation, and the intelligence operative pretending to be one Abu Hind. Operatives of this outfit operate in social media pretending to be Islamic State figures. They are trained to run virtual persona …. Zahran believed Abu Hind was the Islamic State regional representative. Abu Hind was in touch with both Zahran and his brother Rilwan and had spoken to Naufer. This part of evidence is confirmed by Hadiya [Zahran’s wife].” The PCoI, however, says in its report that it has not found any foreign link as regards the Easter Sunday attacks; it has, however, recommended that ‘certain identified parties’ be further investigated. Has any such investigation been conducted?

The PCoI has sought to justify its conclusion that there was no foreign involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks in the light of the fact that none of the key witnesses who said they suspected a foreign link failed to furnish credible evidence to support their claims. The PCoI, therefore, has dismissed their assertions as mere ipse dixits. For reasons best known to itself, it chose to stop at that.

According to the PCoI report, the witnesses who either expressly or impliedly said there had been a foreign link were Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, former President Maithripala Sirisena, former Minister Rauff Hakeem, former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, MP Mujibur Rahuman, former Governor Asath Salley, former Director SIS SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena, former STF Commandant SDIG (retd.) M. R. Latiff, former Chief of Defence Staff Admiral (retd.) Ravindra Wijegunaratne, DIG/CID (retd.) Ravi Seneviratne and former CID Director Shani Abeysekera. They may not have made irresponsible statements before the PCoI. So, the need for a thorough probe into the NTJ’s foreign links to find out whether there was an external hand in the Easter Sunday attacks cannot be overemphasied.



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Editorial

A tall tale told by cops

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Saturday 10th April, 2021

Thousands of military personnel who died in the line of duty to make this country safe would turn in their graves if they knew the way the state is treating their loved ones. Their widows and mothers were seen recently staging street protests in a bid to have some grievances redressed. On Thursday, while they were conducting a peaceful march from the Fort Railway station to the Presidential Secretariat, demanding that they be paid their spouses’ salaries instead of pensions until the time when their husbands would have reached the retirement age. Ven. Jamurewela Chandrarathana, described as the chief organiser of the event, and another person were arrested and subsequently granted police bail. The police claimed that the arrests had been made over a stone attack on two of their vehicles. This, we believe, is a tall tale.

No one in his proper senses dares to hurl stones at a police vehicle in full view of heavily armed cops, and run the risk of having to keep staring at the ceiling of an orthopaedic ward for weeks, if not months. There have been instances where even protesting students had their limbs broken and skulls cracked at the hands of the police riot squads. So, only agents provocateurs working for the government will carry out a stone attack on the police.

Two stone throwers, caught by some members of the public and handed over to the police, on Thursday, vanished while in police custody, only Chandrarathana Thera and another person were taken to a nearby police station, according to the organisers of the protest. This is a very serious allegation, which must not go uninvestigated. One of the attackers is seen in the CCTV footage of the incident, and the bold manner in which he threw stones in a place swarming with police personnel in uniform and civvies suggests that he was confident he would not have to face the consequences of his action. If the police cannot do their job properly, they must, at least, learn how to lie convincingly!

The government says it has sorted out the issue over which the widows of the slain military personnel took to the streets, and a gazette to that effect has been put out. If it is telling the truth, then the protesters had not been informed of what it had done. Why didn’t the defence top brass invite the protesters to a discussion and inform them that their problems had been solved? In fact, the government should have solved the salary issue much earlier.

The leaders of the incumbent dispensation never miss an opportunity to boast of having ended the country’s war on terror. They, no doubt, provided unwavering political leadership for the war effort, but the fact remains that it is the military, the police including the STF, and the Civil Defence Force that made the defeat of terrorism possible. One of the main election pledges of the present government was to look after the interests of the armed forces and police personnel. Its leaders, during their Opposition days, shed copious tears for the military and the police, the slain armed forces personnel and their families and gained a lot of political mileage. They, therefore, must not wait until the family members of the late military personnel stage protests, to act, and, most of all, ensure that the latter are treated with respect.

The government claims its political opponents were behind Thursday’s protest. This claim may be true. There is hardly any issue that does not get politicised in this country. Didn’t the SLPP politicise and exploit the Easter Sunday attacks to win elections? The problem of a bunch of bankrupt politicians and publicity-crazy elements including some priests exploiting the grievances of the family members of the slain warriors to compass their selfish ends would not have arisen if the government had cared to give the protesters a patient hearing instead of unleashing the police on them.

Damaging police vehicles is a serious offence, and the duo responsible for Thursday’s stone-throwing incident can be charged under the Offences against Public Property Act and denied bail. An investigation is called for to find out why the police allowed them to escape, as alleged by the protesters.

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Editorial

Dogs, donkeys, fools and lunatics

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Friday 9th April, 2021

A heated argument between SJB MP Sarath Fonseka and Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, yesterday, plunged Parliament into turmoil with the government and Opposition MPs freely trading insults and threats across the well of the house.

All hell broke loose while the SJB was staging a protest against the unseating of its MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who is currently serving a jail term. Protests will not be of any help to Ramanayake, who is languishing in prison. Only a presidential pardon could save him. Not that everybody has welcomed his sentence, but that is the way the cookie crumbles in courts. His colleagues should have asked him to act with restraint. He kept on tearing into the judiciary unnecessarily and asked for trouble. If the SJB actually believes that Ramanayake has not ceased to be an MP, can it allow anyone else from its Gampaha list to fill the vacancy created by his removal?

The MPs of both sides, yesterday, indulged in insulting some animals as well. They were heard calling each other dog, donkey, fool and lunatic, etc. Politicians may be called fools and lunatics, but why should poor animals be insulted in this manner? Animal lovers must be at a loss to understand why some MPs flew into a rage on being called dogs and donkeys, and even threatened their rivals.

Dogs and donkeys are far superior to politicians, in many respects, so much so that one cannot but wish all people’s representatives in this country behaved in such a way as to deserve to be called dogs and donkeys.

The dog is a wonderful creature. It is known for its courage, intelligence, faithfulness, gratitude and readiness to protect its master even risking its own life. What a nice place this country would be if our representatives also had these canine traits. Blessed is a country that has courageous, faithful and grateful politicians who fiercely protect the citizenry like guard dogs. If our MPs were as faithful as canines, they would never switch their allegiance for pecuniary benefits; the problem of crossovers would cease to be.

In this country, there have been several unfortunate incidents, where some wicked humans threw their aged parents into kennels and other such places, and sniffer dogs in their twilight years, needing special care, were thrown out of the police kennels, where they were auctioned instead of being looked after in appreciation of their outstanding contribution to crimebusting. Such shocking incidents come about as humans lack canine qualities; dogs never desert those who look after them.

Sri Lankan politics is characterised by a huge trust deficit. The trustworthiness of canines has never been in question. This must have been the reason why King Matthias of Hungary (1443-1490), trusted his dogs more than his palace guards. Historians tell us that the wise monarch, troubled by intrigue and treachery in his court, which was full of greedy, unfaithful noblemen, surrounded himself with some guard dogs.

The donkey is intelligent and has an incredible memory despite popular misconceptions, according to scientists. They are also known for their ability to carry heavy loads. They coexist with other creatures. So, why should politicians with shallow minds and deep pockets and are averse to shouldering the burden of serving the taxpaying public, who maintains them, be called donkeys that carry heavy loads, expecting nothing in return?

Will our honourable representatives be so considerate as to desist from insulting dogs, donkeys and other such critters?

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Editorial

Elephant in the room gets spotted

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Wednesday 7th April, 2021

Never a dull day in Sri Lanka, where controversies crop up so rapidly that nobody can keep track of them. The latest issue is the government’s contention that the removal of Chief Justice (CJ) Mohan Peiris, in January 2015, was unconstitutional. Justice Minister Ali Sabry himself said so in answer to a question raised by a government MP, in Parliament, on Monday. He promised to take remedial action after consulting Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Why has this issue been catapulted to centre stage all of a sudden?

It is being argued in some quarters that the ruling party propagandists engineer controversies, from time to time, to prevent their opponents from flogging an issue hard and long enough to turn public opinion against the government.

It is a supreme irony that Mahinda Rajapaksa, under whose presidency Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was removed as CJ in 2013 amidst protests and Mohan Peiris appointed to that post, and Maithripala Sirisena, who used his presidential powers in 2015 to defenestrate Peiris and reinstate Bandaranayake as the CJ, are now together in the SLPP coalition. One may recall that Sirisena, as a senior member of the Rajapaksa Cabinet voted for the impeachment of Dr. Bandaranayake, in Parliament.

Opinion is divided on the removal of CJ Bandaranayake. The Rajapaksa government should have refrained from resorting to such a course of action for the sake of democracy, which is underpinned by the principle of separation of powers. Intoxicated with power, it was no respecter of democracy.

The UNP’s arguments against the impeachment of CJ Bandaranayake were compelling; the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), which probed her, refused to allow her witnesses and failed to specify what the due process was. Most of all, the UNP said the Rajapaksa government had bungled its impeachment project; the resolution passed in a hurry to impeach the CJ sought and secured parliamentary approval for the appointment of the PSC, which probed her; it did not specifically seek approval for her removal, according to the Order Paper, the then UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella told the House.

But if the impeachment process had been flawed and the removal of CJ Bandaranayake wrong, as argued by the UNP and some legal experts, a proper way to right the wrong would have been for President Sirisena to have Parliament undo what it had done. The yahapalana government, which mustered a two-thirds majority for the 19th Amendment, could have accomplished that task easily. Instead, President Sirisena chose to override Parliament. Sadly, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka egged him on to do what he did, unmindful of the politico-legal consequences of his arbitrary action.

President Sirisena’s line of reasoning was that Dr. Bandaranayake had been removed from office wrongfully in January 2013, and the post of CJ had therefore not fallen vacant. He declared the appointment of Peiris as the CJ null and void ab initio, and reinstated Dr. Bandaranayake, who retired soon afterwards. Sri Lanka had three CJs on three consecutive days—Peiris, Bandaranayake and her successor K. Sripavan!

A person has recently been arrested for posing as a President’s Counsel. But, strangely, the yahapalana government, which claimed that Peiris had functioned as the CJ ‘illegally’ and removed him unceremoniously, stopped short of taking any action against him for having been in that post for two years. If it is true that his appointment was invalid, as Sirisena and the UNP claimed, then it follows therefrom that everything he did as the CJ lacked legality. Peiris drew the CJ’s salary, enjoyed the perks of office, functioned as the Chairman of the Judges’ Institute of Sri Lanka, heard cases, gave judgments and signed vital documents. Why didn’t the yahapalana government take any action against Peiris and/or the person who appointed him CJ? Sirisena and his erstwhile yahapalana chums owe an explanation.

Interestingly, the implication of Justice Minister Sabry’s statement at issue is that Sirisena, as the President, violated the Constitution by removing CJ Peiris. If so, action will have to be taken against Sirisena. The SLPP ought to explain why it is keeping Sirisena within its ranks.

If the current Parliament resolves that the government’s contention that the removal of CJ Peiris, in January 2015, was unconstitutional is valid, then it will follow from such a resolution that the reinstatement of Dr. Bandaranayake as the CJ in January 2015 was not legal, and, worse, doubts may even be cast on the legality of the appointment of her successor as well in that if Peiris had not been removed, his term would not have come to an end in mid-January 2015. It will be interesting to see how legal luminaries look at this issue.

One need not be surprised if the government does not proceed beyond the Justice Minister’s statement on the removal of CJ Peiris. Troubled by many problems including intraparty rivalries and clashes and the prospect of the SLFP breaking away in case of action being taken against Sirisena over his failure in 2019, as the President, to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks, the government obviously does not need another issue to contend with.

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