- The jury deemed the available evidence is insufficient to convict the accused
- The unanimous decision was reached by the jury after a one month long trial
The Court ruling on the murder of former Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj drew strong reactions from Tamil politicians last week. Tamil politicians both in the government and outside expressed shock and disappointment at the decision to set free the five suspects accused of the murder.
Minister Mano Ganeshan said that while investigations into the murder had been stalled, it gathered pace under the government of good governance. A special jury acquitted the five accused in the murder, including Navy intelligence officers. The unanimous decision was reached by the jury after a one month long trial.
Ganeshan said that human rights activists, the Tamil community and others expected a fair judgment in the case. “However we are disappointed with the ruling. It is not what we expected,” he said.
Raviraj, Mano Ganesan and M. A. Sumanthiran
Raviraj was shot dead near his residence at Manning Town in Narahenpita in November 2006 when he was driving his vehicle along Matha Road. The CID recovered the vehicle and a weapon alleged to have been used in the killing.
Senior Deputy Solicitor General Rohantha Abeysooriya with Senior State Counsel Suharshi Herath appeared for the Attorney General. Senior Counsel Anuja Premaratne with Rasika Balasuriya, Yuran Liyanage appeared for the accused, while Counsel K. V. Thavarasa appeared for the aggrieved party. Counsel Darshana Ranmuthuge appeared for the State Witness.
Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian and senior human rights lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran had told The Hindu newspaper last week that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and Attorney-General’s Department had found evidence pointing to the involvement of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) in the assassination of former Parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj.
Additionally, the public prosecutor’s indictment accused some ‘persons unknown to the prosecution’ of being involved in the murder.
“So it was obvious that a few junior-level naval officers had not done this on their own will. They are responsible for carrying out someone’s orders, but it is only one small part of the puzzle. This happened ten years ago and we are still waiting to find out who gave the orders,” Sumanthiran told The Hindu.
The Hindu newspaper noted that acquittal of five persons charged with the murder of the Tamil legislator has renewed skepticism over the credibility of the country’s justice system, particularly in cases involving extra-judicial killings implicating the armed forces.
The Hindu further reported that while giving evidence during the investigation, a former police constable who turned state witness claimed that former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had arranged a payment of Rs. 50 million to the Karuna faction to murder the MP.
Karuna Amman, or Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, broke away from the LTTE and was later appointed as Minister during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency. The jury, however, deemed the available evidence insufficient to convict the accused.
The legal process in the murder probe appears fraught with discrepancies, observed lawyers. The case involved two offences – one, under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and another, a murder charge under the Penal Code. While the accused naval officers were remanded under the PTA that disallows bail, they were permitted a jury trial under provisions of the ordinary law, even though the PTA disallows trial by jury, said Sumanthiran.
“Under the PTA, a jury cannot pronounce the verdict as has now been done. It is illegal,” said Mr. Sumanthiran, who appeared for Raviraj’s wife in this case. Some see the recent outcome as a reflection of an apparent ethnic bias against the Tamils in the justice system. “Every time there is a case involving a Tamil leader there is this ‘us [Sinhalese] versus others [Tamils]’ factor that comes into play,” The Hindu quoted senior journalist and political commentator Kusal Perera as saying.
“Merely appointing a Tamil as Chief Justice does not challenge the structural biases within the system,” he said, referring to incumbent Chief Justice Kanagasabapathy Sripavan, who was appointed after Sri Lanka’s national unity government came to power in 2015.
Ganeshan meanwhile noted that there seems to be a trend now where suspects accused in key murders and disappearances are being released. Among those released on bail are the suspects accused over the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda.
“The faith we built on the judiciary in recent times is seeing a change,” he said.
Ganeshan raised fears that the decisions taken by the courts will likely be raised at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March. “This might have a negative impact in Sri Lanka,” he warned. Ganeshan also recalled that there was a push earlier for an international investigation on the war in Sri Lanka.
He said the government however rejected those calls and sought support for a domestic, credible process.However he said the court ruling in the Nadaraja Raviraj case will only strengthen calls for an international investigation. The Minister said the government continues to call for faith in the local judicial process but he says it is difficult to have such faith when rulings like that given in the Raviraj case are given.
He also said that the public will now be forced to assume that Nadaraja Raviraj killed himself as there is no one accused of the murder.