The Duminda verdict
Last week’s unanimous decision of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, quashing former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Special Presidential Pardon to Duminda Silva, former parliamentarian and supervising MP of the Defence Ministry serving a life term for the murder of another former MP, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, has been widely approved by public opinion. We say welcomed by the public because there is a deep rooted perception that some are more equal than others in this Socialist Democratic Republic of ours with wealthy and politically connected persons better treated than the less endowed.
Silva was one of five accused sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court in September 2016 after conviction by a divided verdict of a three-judge trial-at-bar with one judge dissenting. We are told the latest decision is final although some Supreme Court decisions of the past have been reviewed by fuller benches, such a possibility does not exist in the current situation. The case in the original court dragged on for nearly nine months and the judge who delivered the determination – the presiding judge dissented – said that a report of the Judicial Medical Officer had held that Silva was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the shooting and that the four victims including Premachandra had been shot with same firearm.
The Duminda Silva determination comes soon after the earlier decision of November 2023 of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court holding the three Rajapaksa brothers, Gotabaya, Mahinda and Basil – the latter two held the finance ministry – of driving the country to bankruptcy. That judgment also held former Central Bank Governors Ajith Nivard Cabraal and W.D. Lakshman as well as former Treasury Secretary S.R Attygalle and former Presidential Secretary P.B. Jayasundera culpable. No damages or penalties were imposed in this instance as none had been sought.
Earlier in the Easter Sunday case in January last year former President Maithripala Sirisena was held partly responsible for the massive security failure for the carnage and ordered to pay Rs. 100 million to a special fund controlled by the Attorney General to compensate the victims. Senior police officers, including then IGP Pujith Jayasundera and Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena were ordered to pay Rs. 75 million each while Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando must pay Rs. 50 million and then Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis, Rs. 10 million. As is well known, the Easter bombing occurred despite warning from Indian intelligence that a terrorist strike was very much in the offing.
These judicial decisions coming hard on the heels or each other have given Sri Lankans accustomed to the rulers getting off scot-free for their many acts of omission and commission have undoubtedly given the people fresh heart that the judiciary at least will enforce accountability. Calling the Duminda Silva pardon and many others “executive madness,” our stablemate, The Island on Friday editorially drew attention to several such instances of presidential pardons granted in the past. The rot began with President J.R. Jayewardene granting a notorious rapist, politically connected Gonawela Sunil, imprisoned for attacking a teenage girl, a pardon and releasing him from jail.
The tradition continued with President Maithripala Sirisena pardoning Galabodaatte Gnanasara who we would describe as a person in yellow robes rather than a Buddhist monk, held guilty of a most flagrant act of contempt of court. Then there was President Mahinda Rajapaksa pardoning the wife of a minister sentenced to death for murdering a woman described as the minister’s mistress. GR not only pardoned Amadoru Lawrence Romelo Duminda Silva, to give Duminda’s full name. He had earlier pardoned a soldier, Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake held in death row for murdering eight Tamil civilians.
Let us not forget the Royal Park murder case of 2005 when 19-year old Yvonne Jonsson, the daughter of a Swedish father and a Lankan mother was beaten and fatally strangled at the Royal Park Condominium complex in Rajagiriya. A wealthy young man, educated at an International School in Colombo and then went to Australia for higher studies, Jude Shramantha Anthony Jayamaha was convicted in this case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and received a 12-year sentence of imprisonment. But he received a controversial presidential pardon from President Maithripala Sirisena a few days before Sirisena’s term ended in 2019. Jayamaha wrote a letter of remorse after receiving his pardon and is reported to have left the country.
Perhaps Duminda Silva who was appointed chairman of the National Housing Development Authority after his release from jail might have done well to have left the country after his release as Jayamaha did. Whether he had visions of returning to parliament we do not know. Though we do know that many undesirables have crawled out of the woodwork since the impact of the Aragalaya waned and are heard both in parliament and election platforms. Hirunika Premachandra, Bharatha Lakshman’s daughter who was elected both to the western provincial council and parliament is no longer an MP but remains politically active with the SJB. It was her fundamental rights action that triggered last weeks judgment.
Latest reports say that Duminda is hospitalized at Sri Jayawardenapura. He was taken to custody when leave to appeal was granted for Hirunika’s fundamental rights action. Whether he will remain at SJH as his doctors recommend or be transferred to the prisons hospital is yet an open question. People still remember that former minister and present MP S.B. Dissanayake, jailed for contempt of court, spent much of his sentence in the merchant’s ward of the Colombo National Hospital.