The country is moving towards pitch darkness instead of from darkness to light. It can be said that the present program of scheduled power cuts imposed island-wide and how it is being implemented, amply symbolises the destructive journey of the country towards darkness. The balance of payments crisis in Sri Lanka is obvious and critical. It is not difficult to understand the breakdown of the social system. But the deterioration of the State mechanism is not so obvious. It can be considered as one of the least discussed topics when talking about the crisis in Sri Lanka.
Three fundamental rights petitions filed recently in the Supreme Court reflect the extent to which the Sri Lankan State has degenerated. One petition has been filed by Shani Abeysekera, former director of the CID. The other two by Nagananda Kodithuwakku, a public interest activist, and Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) respectively. I consider the facts presented by Shani Abeysekera in his petition based on his experience about the attack on Easter Sunday and how the State and the military intelligence agencies have responded to it, are very important.
Nagananda has filed his petition against the former Chairman of the Election Commission. He alleges that the former Chairman of the Election Commission has committed a punishable criminal offense by not properly examining the disqualifications of Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he handed over his nominations for the last presidential election thereby allowing an unqualified person to be elected to the important post of presidency.
Dr. Saravanamuthu’s petition is against the former President Sirisena for illegal occupation of a mansion belonging to the State which was built at the expense of the Government by merging two government buildings. The prohibition of transacting business with the Government applies not only to Parliamentarians but also to Presidents as well. Accordingly, the acquisition and occupation of a public property by former President Sirisena in undue manner is a punishable offense.
These three fundamental rights petitions, in one way or another, have some relevance to the current crisis. The
extent of disintegration, breakdown and decay of the State can be understood from these petitions. Not only the economic and social system but also the State itself is now in a degenerated state that it cannot be restored with simple patchwork measures without resorting to deep and far-reaching structural reforms. The role being played currently by the Legislature and the Executive in the context of the present crisis is rather idiotic and destructive.
Though there is an element of irregularity inherent in the way the State of Sri Lanka had been built, even in that irregularity the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary were still regarded as the three main power centres of the State. Consequent to the establishment of a presidential system of governance placing the president above the rule of law, there occurred a major shift in the balance of power in which the President gained a supra position while the status of the other two power centres namely Legislature and Judiciary were reduced compared to the powers vested on the president.
However, the current multi-pronged crisis in Sri Lanka is leading towards making new changes in the balance of power among the three power centres. So much so, the president who was entrusted with all the powers of the State is in a very weak position at the moment. There is a major breakdown in the public image and acceptance of the president.
The Legislature or Parliament is also in a state of disarray where it has lost public confidence. There are criticisms against the judiciary, but the breakdown in the judiciary is relatively less compared to the Executive and the Legislature. There is still public confidence in the judiciary. Does the judiciary possess the capacity to direct the country towards adopting corrective measures and preventing it from plunging into anarchy when the functioning of the legislature and the executive are already in jeopardy?
I am of the view that the judiciary in a special occasion like this has a great responsibility to direct the country towards adopting corrective measures. With that in mind, I look forward to appraising the merits of the three fundamental rights petitions and the questions they have raised in two articles.
Shani Abeysekera has filed this fundamental rights petition seeking an injunction to prevent him from being arrested or detained on false charges. What is most important in his fundamental rights petition is that he has supported his petition with strong evidence to prove that there had been an illegal and strange link between the gang of Zaharan that carried out the Easter bomb attack and the state intelligence agencies and military intelligence agencies before and until the attack of Easter Sunday.
He has produced three strong pieces of evidence to prove that the state intelligence agencies and military intelligence agencies have ganged up to disrupt the investigations initiated by the CID to probe into the activities of the gang of Zaharan prior to the Easter Sunday attack or to mislead the investigators in their pursuit. The murder of two police constables at a police post in Batticaloa on 30 November 2008 is prominent among them.
Also, he has produced evidence to show that permission has not been granted to question two key individuals identified as having had links with Zaharan or other members of his group. For example, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attack, the FBI of the USA launched an investigation about a person who had been identified following an analysis of computer records, electronic devices and Internet accounts related to the attackers. The director of the military intelligence unit has intervened and prevented his detention stating that he has played a role in the intelligence unit.
When the evidence presented by Shani Abeysekera in connection with the Easter attack is put together, it appears that the two major state intelligence agencies have acted on a policy that will enable the gang of Zaharan to successfully carry out their offensive program, rather than preventing the attack. The intelligence agencies of a nation-state can fall into such an ugly and horrible state only if that nation-state is corrupted to a maximum degree. In such a situation, degeneration of intelligence agencies will become a natural outcome of the corruption of the State itself.
For a long time, there was a situation in the country in which certain high-ranking officials of the state intelligence services used to gang up with the rulers and engage themselves in horrific criminal activities for their narrow political interests rather than fulfilling their legal responsibilities for national security. This situation became obvious during the reign of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It can be said that the investigations carried out by the CID have confirmed some of the heinous crimes committed by the state intelligence agencies at that time.
There are seven specific instances where the officials of National Intelligence Service and the Military Intelligence Agencies have been alleged with heinous crimes as follows: 1) The assassination of MP Ravi Raj in November 2006 (11) the abduction and disappearance of 11 youths by Navy intelligence officers in 2008 for ransom. (111) Abduction and torture of journalist Keith Noyar in July 2008. (1V) Assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper in January 2009. (V) Assault on Upali Tennakoon, editor of the Rivira newspaper in January 2009. (V1) Abduction and disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda in January 2010. (V11) the assassination of Wasim Thajudeen, the rugby player in May 2012.
Investigations conducted and reports submitted to the Courts in respect of these crimes indicate that the officers of the National Intelligence Service or the Military Intelligence Services are involved in all seven violent crimes. All these investigations have been carried out by Shani Abeysekara. Three of the five accused in Raviraj assassination case were intelligence officers of the Navy. The assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, abduction and torture of Keith Noyar and the attack on Upali Tennakoon were identified as crimes committed by several intelligence officers of the Tripoli Army Camp at Maradana.
A number of Army intelligence officers were charged in connection with the abduction and disappearance of Eknaligoda. Also, several officers of the National Intelligence Service were charged for the assassination of Thajudeen. Except for the abduction of 11 children, all other crimes can be considered as crimes committed at the behest of political powers.
Obviously, the Military or Police Intelligence officers cannot have an intention to assassinate Lasantha Wickrematunge or Prageeth Eknaligoda. What might have happened was the political powers that had close connections with intelligence services might have used intelligence officers to do what they wanted. This explains the degree of degeneration of the State intelligence agencies at that time, which is considered to be the most important component of state security.
At the same time, it reflects the ridiculous state of national security in the country at that time. The Attorney General, who examined the investigations into these heinous crimes, should have pointed out to the President as well as the Legislature the degeneration taken place in the state intelligence services and stressed on the importance of making appropriate reforms to rectify the situation.
Closing the trump and playing the same
After the Yahapalana regime assumed power in 2015, the CID was able to investigate certain crimes committed during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and identify those responsible for them; most of those responsible for these crimes were found to be high-ranking officials in the state intelligence service; some of them were arrested and prosecuted. This process must have plunged not only those involved in crimes, but also the entire national and military intelligence network into a deep fear psychosis which might have driven them to launch a defensive backlash.
It cannot be presumed that any of the intelligence officers involved in the above crimes would have committed them with a sense of seriousness. They may have thought that the country would be ruled for a long time by the politicians who were close to them. They would have believed that they could gain various benefits by committing such crimes that would enrich their lives as well for the support they extend to politicians. What they were most surprised about would have been the fact that the investigators were able to detect and identify the criminals responsible for these crimes easily.
At the same time, many attempts had been made to sabotage the criminal investigation process. The heads of some military units refrained from providing official information needed to carry out investigations. It is said that there had been instances where attempts have been made to persuade even President Sirisena to suppress and cover up certain investigations.
The aspirations of those accused of crimes committed with the connivance of the intelligence officers and the powerful politicians who were behind those crimes might have had an influence in the conspiratory attempt made on 26 October 2018 to overthrow the Yahapalana Government by removing Ranil Wickremesinghe from the post of Prime Minister and appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Perhaps, the state intelligence services may have resorted to a policy of supporting the extremist agenda of the Zaharan faction strongly when it appeared that the attempt to overthrow the Yahapalana regime by changing the Prime Minister was not going to be successful.
On the 40th day of the change of the Prime Minister (05.12.2018), the Chief of Army Intelligence reported for the first time that it was the LTTE which was behind the killing of two police constables at Vavunathivu on 30 November 2018, which could be considered as a major occasion in which the CID was misled. The IGP had handed over the investigation into the murders of the two police constables to the CID. However, it appears that the military intelligence has pursued a policy of misleading the CID instead of supporting it.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Army Intelligence Unit, after his first report, and the subsequent reports submitted on 12 August 2018, 30 August 2018 and 1 January 2019 has shown that the assassination of the two police constables has been committed by the LTTE.
If it had been identified as a crime committed by the clique of Zaharan, the Easter Sunday attack could have been avoided. During this period, there was a powerful propaganda campaign launched in the country aimed at creating a strong sense of repulsion in the Sinhalese community towards the Muslims. The propaganda campaign alleged that the Muslims were implementing a subtle program to make the Sinhalese an extinct community by mixing sterility drugs with food sold for Sinhala consumers and introducing the same to the apparel purchased by Sinhala women.
On 17 January 2019, 100 kilos of explosives were seized from a house in Wanatha Villu. On 2 February of that year, Shani Abeysekera met the President together with the head of the CID (SDIG Ravi Seneviratne) and informed him of the seizure of 100 kilos of explosives and pointed out the danger lying ahead and stressed on the importance of the Security Council being informed of the situation; but the President has not taken any effective action in this regard.
What could be the end?
The aim of the team of Zaharan seems to have been to wreak maximum damage. Obviously, it was not intended to seize power which may have well matched with the expectations of those who sought a power change to overcome the allegations against them. Therefore, it appears that they have refrained from taking steps to thwart the planned attack by the gang of Zaharan and instead adopted a policy of aiding and abetting the attackers to make their plan a success.
Although the devastation caused by the attack made by the gang of Zaharan on Easter Sunday had been extremely large (nearly 270 people were killed and nearly 500 others injured), the benefit received by the conspiratorial forces must have been much more and enormous. This incident created a great deal of contempt and a great fear of insecurity in the psyche of the Sinhala Buddhist community against the minority groups; and it generated a hysterical excitement among the Sinhala Buddhists that a political power change that places a bigger weight on the Sinhala Buddhist community was imperative for their upliftment and security.
The political power change that took place at the end of 2019 can be considered as an outcome of the Sinhala-Buddhist impulse released by that. Had it not been for the Easter Sunday attack, a power change of that scale and nature would not have taken place. Therefore, a larger share of credit of this political transformation should go to the master brains who had allowed the Easter attack to flow unhindered and smoothly. In the immediate aftermath of that transformation, the Government, in addition to withdrawing court cases against political leaders, pursued a policy of providing maximum relief to those in the intelligence agencies who had been prosecuted for the seven crimes described above.
In this process the fate of Shani Abeysekera, the former director of the CID is not clear. He can be considered the most colourful investigative crime detective Sri Lanka police have ever produced. He could not be considered as someone who acted on political allegiances. He performed his duties well. But he had to play a crucial role during the Yahapalana regime. With the emergence of a new regime the new rulers took revenge from him rudely. He was arrested on a false charge and detained in remand custody for a long period. He is now convinced that there is a plan to arrest him again on another charge; that’s why he has submitted a fundamental rights petition seeking the intervention of the Court to prevent it.
If not for Shani, the puzzle of Easter Sunday attack would have been difficult to be solved. A word should also be said about SDIG Ravi Seneviratna, the former head of the CID. During his tenure, he held the CID in high esteem. He didn’t allow for political interference at all. I have heard of certain instances where even the President has interfered to suppress certain investigations. But, at no time had he allowed the suppression of investigations. The most important quality he has displayed in this context is that he has opted to appear for the defense of Shani Abeysekara following his arrest.
It was learnt that each day when Shani was brought before the court, his superior officer used to go to court. When asked by a government official whether it is advisable to go to court on behalf of someone like Shani who has fallen from the grace of the rulers, his response has been that he was not afraid to stand up for Shani, in his capacity as his boss because he had done nothing wrong. It is the leaders of this calibre that the country needs at the moment.
Disclaimer: Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith meets UNHRC Chief Michelle Bachelet - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view