( December 19, 2012, Colombo – Sri Lanka Guardian, Sri Lanka Guardian) The government has withdrawn its sponsorship for the annual programme of the Judicial Service Association. On that basis this prevents the UNDP funds for being utilised for this meeting. However, it is reported that the judges will proceed with the meeting for one day with their own personal contributions.
Obviously, the government has tried to stop this annual gathering where the judges normally spend two days and also have the opportunity to interact with each other and to socialize. The obvious fear would be that the judges will naturally talk about the threat faced by the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka. Recently many events of concern have happened such as the attack by a minister with others on the Magistrate’s Court and the High Court of Mannar. The magistrate complained also that he was threatened by the Industries Minister Risath Bathiudeen. A contempt of court issue as well as criminal is pending on the matter. Then there was the attempted kidnapping and assault on the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission. Above all there is the attempt to get rid of the Chief Justice after the Supreme Court had given a ruling adverse to the government.
The Judicial Service Association met the Chief Justice and discussed the matter and issued a statement during the course of the last few weeks. The Association also issued a further statement expressing their serious concern about the issue of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. Referring to the proceedings by the PSC against the Chief Justice the Association requested the president not to act on the PSC recommendations as the PSC does not constitute a competent tribunal to ensure a fair inquiry on the matter. The association also stated that the removal of the Chief Justice or a superior court judge is an extremely important matter and therefore on all aspects of an inquiry into such matters appropriate legal principles should be strictly adhered to.
Following this statement the SLBC morning programme which is inappropriately titled, ‘Peoples’ Power’ attacked this statement stating that the statement does not express the views of the judges but only of some persons who have hijacked the Association. In a broadcast which was aimed at creating hatred against the judges there was no attempt at all to interview any of the judges or to give a fair understanding of the content of the letter and the circumstances under which it was issued.
Besides the judges lawyers are also under attack. There was an attempted assault on Gunaratne Vanninayaka, the President of the Colombo Magistrate’s Court Lawyer’s Association and the Convener of People’s March when four persons pursued him and one threatened him with a pistol to open the window of his car. It was due to the intervention of the domestic helpers of his house who were alerted by the cries of his wife that the assailants fled. Mr. Vanninayaka and other lawyers have condemned this attack as aimed to be an attack on his life. Mr. Vanninayaka has been a very active campaigner against the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice.
In the same way that at one time journalists who were making independent reports were portrayed as enemies of the state and attacked, now the attacks are against the judges and lawyers. Given the severe reactions from the public as well as from around the world which describes the impeachment process as completely unfair the government seems to be paranoid about any gatherings of lawyers and judges.
When a government fears the lawyers and judges of its own country it indicates a serious insecurity on the part of the government. The attacks on judges and lawyers arise from this same sense of insecurity.
We urge the government to respect the country’s judiciary and to abandon the attacks on the judiciary. We also call upon the people to support the judiciary against these attacks.
A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission