October 13, 2023
His Excellency Ranil Wickremesinghe,
Galle Face Center Road
A Black Day for Sri Lanka’s Justice System
On September 23, 2023 the Mullaithivu District Judge T. Saravanarajah resigned his office with immediate effect. In the annals of Ceylon recent history, this is the first time a sitting judge has resigned citing threat to his life and that of his family. Among other reasons cited by him for his resignation the following are very serious and relevant,
X – “Constant pressure was applied by the government to reverse the orders I had issued in Kurunthoornalai case.
X – Members of Parliament and others belonging to the majority community have issued threats against my life, both in Parliament as well as outside it.
X – The police protection afforded to me (the judge) was recently reduced, whilst the intelligence officers continued to survey me.
X – The Attorney General invited me (Judge) to meet him in his office on 21.09.2023 and during the meeting he compelled me to reverse the orders that I had issued in the Kurunthoornalai case.
X – Moreover, two cases have been filed against me personally in the Court of Appeal in connection with the Kurunthoornalai case.
X – I have had to resign from all my judicial posts due to life threats, pressures, and harassments that I have been subjected to since delivering the order. The above are just a handful of examples of the threats, pressures, and harassments I received.
X – I sent the resignation letter to the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission through registered post on 23-09-2023.
X – This incident demonstrates the state of rule of law in the island. If a Tamil judge is subjected to such threats, one can only imagine the conditions under which the Tamil people are suffering, let alone Tamil activists.
The above allegations by the learned Judge, even if half true, is a gross interference in the independence of the judiciary and a calamitous setback for the rule of law. Judge Saravanarajah who heard the case filed by the Kurunthoormalai Athi Sivan Aiyanar temple trustees complaining the construction of an unauthorized Buddhist Vihara close to the site of the Hindu temple by a Buddhist monk. This illegal construction was aided and abetted by the Archeological Department, the army and the police. The Judge gave orders, not once but thrice, restraining the party concerned to halt construction of the Vihara pending final judgment. Despite the court orders the construction of the Vihara went ahead by the army using state funds.
In the process of constructing the Vihara the Archeological department ransacked the Kurunthoor Sivan Aiyanar temple and removed the Trizol which is the symbol of Hindu God Shiva. An excavation carried out at the site by the Archeological Department yielded no remnants of any Buddhist heritage. On the contrary there were Hindu symbols like the Lingam, pillars etc.
This is not the first time a judge came under attack by militant Buddhist extremists. Sarath Weerasekara, MP went as far as to call the judge an insane person in the parliament. His verbal assault on the judge was laced with offensive, hate, derogatory racist venom. No member of parliament came to the defense of the judge except opposition Tamil MPs.
According to a news release by the United Nations in 2012, there were reports of intimidation and attacks against judges and judicial officers in Sri Lanka, which could pose a threat to the independence of the justice system in the country. The report also stated that the recent steps taken by the executive and legislative towards impeaching the Chief Justice appear to be the culminating point of a series of attacks against the judiciary for asserting its independence.
The successive governments have displayed callous disregard for the rule of law that militates against independence and transparency of the justice system. Adding insult to injury, the Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms Wijedasa Rajapaksa speaking in parliament has insinuated that Judge Saravanarajah fled the country to avoid facing seven (7) Writ Applications pending in the Appeal Court.
Many legal associations, including the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, have described the judge’s resignation as a ‘serious threat’ to the independence of the judiciary in the island nation and urged the Judicial Service Commission to carry out an independent investigation.
The resignation of the judge could not have come at the worst of time when the country is crawling back from the economic doldrums and bankruptcy declared in April, 2022.
A country divided along ethnic and religious lines cannot hope to achieve economic prosperity. The Tamil people are facing multiple attacks on several fronts on a daily basis. Their lands are forcibly grabbed by Buddhist monks to build Viharas, erect statues of Buddha where there are no Buddhists.
Finally, we welcome the probe ordered by the President into the resignation of district court judge Saravanarajah and hopefully justice will be done to him and those who posed a threat to his life and family duly brought to justice.
Copy to: (1) Commissioner of the office of UNHCR
(2) Heads of Government and Diplomatic Missions
(3) Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International