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Judiciary complains of intimidation in Sri Lanka

Geneva-based body says rule of law is being threatened by government

  • Mike MacLachlan, London
  • International
  • October 10, 2012
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The Sri Lankan government is publicly seeking to undermine the independence of the country’s judiciary, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said yesterday.

The claim follows an attack by unidentified assailants on Manjula Tillakaratne, secretary of the Sri Lankan Judicial Services Commission (JSC), on Sunday.

He was taken to the hospital with head and face injuries after being struck with a pistol butt.

“This physical assault is another terrible step downward in the ongoing effort to undermine the judiciary and the rule of law in Sri Lanka,” said Sam Zarifi, the ICJ’s Asian director.

“The government has to investigate this event and bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure the country’s judges are secure from assault and intimidation.”

Last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa demanded a meeting with the chief justice and two members of the JSC after the Supreme Court struck down a bill pending in parliament, the ICJ said.

The JSC refused because of the implications such a meeting would have on judicial independence. This was met with what the ICJ describes as “a public campaign of vilifying the chief justice and other members of the JSC” by government-controlled media.

On September 28, Tillakaratne issued a statement expressing concern for “the security of all of us and our families” and on Monday lawyers and judges went on strike to protest at threats to judicial independence.

“The effort to use state-controlled media to browbeat and intimidate judges is an egregious assault on the independence and impartiality of Sri Lanka’s judiciary,” Zarifi said.

“An independent judiciary is a necessary precondition to safeguard human rights.”

The ICJ, a non-governmental organization of 60 lawyers and judges from many countries, pointed out that earlier this year a government minister threatened a magistrate in Mannar district and a mob then stoned and set fire to the Mannar courthouse.

Rajapaksa told journalists last week there was no interference in the judiciary and that, as a lawyer himself, he wanted a truly independent judiciary. He has ordered an investigation into the attack on Tillakaratne.

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