Vasu’s gambit: A wrong message

Daily News Editorial

Firebrand Joint Opposition MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara has called on the government to instruct the courts to release his colleague Wimal Weerawansa, now on a hunger strike. Nanayakkara says the MP has not been found guilty but only taken into custody merely on suspicion. His detention therefore was unlawful, the JO stalwart asserts.

Nanayakkara is well aware that Weerawansa was placed in remand following his indictment by court and that his revision application for bail too was rejected by the High Court which held with the Magistrate that that the offence was unbailable. This clearly shatters Nanayakkara’s argument that the MP was being held merely on suspicion. Weerawansa was taken into custody following due process. The complaint against him that he misappropriated state vehicles incurring a loss of Rs. 90 million to the government was gone into by the law enforcement and he was subsequently arrested based on hard evidence that transpired in the investigation. Courts don’t throw people into jail merely based on suspicion but after hearing arguments of both, the prosecution and the defence, and considering corroborative evidence. To suggest, then, that the MP was being held based only on suspicion is indeed a dubious claim made by Nanayakkara who is a senior attorney- at- law.

As a lawyer, the MP is clearly aware that the government cannot instruct the court to release those held in custody. Nanayakkara may well be entertaining the thought that this indeed could be done by the President, going by the precedent set by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa releasing the wife of one his ministers, who was in death row for the murder of hubby’s mistress, or on the basis of a presidential pardon granted by another President to a convicted rapist. But it is difficult to imagine that such precedents will be followed by a government which claims to be wedded to Yahapalanaya. The President had demonstrated his bona fides in this regard when he went public to claim how a deposed Chief Justice had pledged to deliver verdicts in favour of the government, if that was what it wants, in turn for his retention in office. Hence it could be reasonably assumed that the government will not interfere in the functions of the judiciary.

By urging the government to request the court to release Weerawansa, and faulting the courts for holding the MP on mere suspicion, Nanayakkara also has scored an own goal of sorts. The MP’s contention, no doubt, would be received with glee by those clamouring for a hybrid court with foreign judges. The MP has sent a clear message that the Lankan courts is flawed and justice could not be expected from our judicial system. The MP also makes the case that Weerawansa was not conducting the hunger strike to get himself released from remand custody but to protest against the burning issues in the country, such as the sale of state assets to foreigners, rising cost of living and indirect taxes.

Cartoon from Divayna

If that indeed is the case it certainly is an extreme action. We thought that there are enough protests being carried out, highlighting these very issues, and more, by mobs supportive of the Rajapaksas. Does Weerawansa believe that, by offering his life, the cost of living would come down, or, there will be a moratorium on the sale of state assets to foreigners, or, the indirect taxes imposed on the public would cease? It is this selfsame Weerawansa who staged a death fast opposite the UN compound in Colombo for something as fantastic as getting then UN Secretary General Ban-ki-Moon to drop charges against Sri Lanka. Not just the MP, but all government institutions were ordered by Mahinda Rajapaksa to protest against Moon and May Day in 2012 was converted to one mass anti-Moon protest, for all the effect it had on the UN. The NFF leader’s concerns, on behalf of the suffering public, should indeed be appreciated. But it would have been much more endearing if he thought about the public when he caused a loss of Rs. 90 million of tax payers’ money, if indeed the allegations against him are true. Nanayakkara has also made another pitch to justify the release of Wimal Weerawansa from remand prison. He claims that the MP’s daughter had fallen sick following her father’s prolonged stay in remand and gives this as a reason for securing his release.

Nanayakkara, as a lawyer, may have defended countless suspects from the other side of the dock and, while, he may have been successful on some occasions he would not have been able to secure an acquittal at other instances. We have never heard, though, of Nanayakkara the lawyer pleading for the release of his convicted clients, based on the trauma undergone by their children. It is hoped that the reasons adduced by the MP to secure the release of his colleague will not open the floodgates, as also with the MP, now on hunger strike.