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Two lawmakers join civil society bid to highlight Maj. Prasanna’s case

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two SLPP lawmakers, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera and Gevindu Cumaratunga have expressed serious concern over failure on the part of retired Maj. Ajith Prasanna, who is also an attorney-at-law, to secure bail pending court proceedings in respect of contempt court charges filed by the Attorney General.

The police arrested one-time Southern Provincial Council member Prasanna on January 24th, 2020 for making allegations regarding the conduct of the judiciary.

Colombo District MP State Minister Weerasekera and National List MP Cumaratunga backed the move in their capacity as the Convenor Jathika Sanvidana Ekamuthuwa and Chairman, civil society organisation Uthukama, respectively.

Shyamendra Wickramaarachchi, executive director, Global Sri Lankan Forum told The Island several nationalist  groups based in the UK, UAE, Scotland, Italy, Canada, Qatar, France, Japan, Myanmar, Monaco and the US backed the move to highlight the retired officer’s plight.

Prasanna, who served in the Sinha Regiment, suffered injuries in an LTTE attack in the Jaffna peninsula in the early 90s. Subsequently, he joined the Army Legal Directorate and launched his political career after retirement.

The civil society outfit said that Prasanna had played a significant role during yahapalana administration in support of the Joint Opposition campaign. Unfortunately, he had been conveniently forgotten by those who were aware of his tremendous contribution at a time the previous government brazenly suppressed dissent.

Their statement has referred to the continuing plight of Prasanna’s wife, Sudarmika and two children. Wickramaarachchi said that in his capacity as an attorney-at-law Maj. Prasanna appeared for several military personnel charged in courts.

The grouping, in its public statement alleged that those who had ridiculed and played politics with the law during the previous administration were continuing in public life without hindrance.

The police arrested the retired soldier in the wake of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) deciding to move the Supreme Court against him over controversial comments on a live political programme. The Bar Council took a unanimous decision in that regard at a meeting on Dec 14, 2019 presided over by BASL President Kalinga Indatissa, PC, its main office at Mihindu Mawatha, Hulftsdorp.

The Bar Council found fault with Major Prasanna for being critical of several senior members of the Attorney General’s Department, Magistrates as well as law enforcement officers as regards four cases – disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda (2010), alleged abduction and disappearance of 11 persons by the Navy (2008), abduction and torture of Deputy Editor of The Nation Keith Noyahr (2008) and attempt on Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon’s life (2008).

Ajith Prasanna is the second attorney-at-law to face SC proceedings following complaints received in respect of a lawyer’s conduct. The SC in March 2019 barred public litigation activist Nagananda Kodituwakku from practicing law for a period of three years following a contempt of court charge.

A three-member bench, comprising then Chief Justice Nalin Perera, Justices Sisira de Abrew and Prasanna Jayawardena issued the order in respect of a defamation case filed in 2015.

The Bar Council announced its decision to haul Major Prasanna before the SC following representations made by three lawyers. Attorney-at-law Prasanna was also present at the meeting chaired by Kalinga Indatissa, PC. Prasanna altogether named five Magistrates, three AG’s Department officials and law enforcement officers, including highly controversial Inspector Nishantha Silva, who secured political asylum under mysterious circumstances in Switzerland last November.

Major Prasanna was initially represented by juniors of attorney-at-law Maithri Gunaratne, then Anil Silva, PC and now Shavendra Fernando, PC.

A bail application filed by counsel for Major Prasanna requesting bail was refused by the Court of Appeal last September. The move was made in respect of the former officer remanded by Colombo Magistrate’s Court over allegations that he had intimidated witnesses in a case before Magistrate’s Court at two media conferences. Two Navy personnel Thushara Mendis and K.A. Gamini remanded on the same charge received bail a couple of weeks ago.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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