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Lawyers, civil society support judge who fled Sri Lanka

Judge Saravanarajah who recently ruled on a case pertaining to a disputed religious site has cited 'threat to life, stress'
Catholic priests and nuns stage a silent protest outside the Sri Lanka's Supreme Court complex in Colombo on Nov. 8, 2021

Catholic priests and nuns stage a silent protest outside the Sri Lanka's Supreme Court complex in Colombo on Nov. 8, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 04, 2023 11:33 AM GMT
Updated: October 04, 2023 11:36 AM GMT

Lawyers have decided to boycott court proceedings as protesters took to the streets in support of a judge who fled Sri Lanka after an order on a disputed religious site.

Rallies have been taking place in Northern and Eastern provinces almost all days this week, demanding independence of the judiciary after district judge T Saravanarajah quit and fled the nation.

He was handling the case of a disputed archaeological site, claimed by both Buddhists and minority Tamil Hindus as their place of worship with historical importance.

Saravanarajah's resignation letter, dated Sept. 23 and addressed to the secretary of Sri Lanka’s Judicial Services Commission, said he was resigning because of  the “threat to my life and stress.”

Civil society groups and lawyers organized a human chain on Oct. 4. covering 10 kilometers on the main road from Jaffna town to Maruthanarmadam in the Northern province. 

Meanwhile, lawyers attached to the Bar Associations across eight districts in the two provinces have decided to boycott court proceedings till “a transparent and independent probe” is conducted. 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has called for a report after criticism from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and civil society outfits.

Saravanarajah earned the wrath of hardline Buddhist groups over his order on a highly contested Kurunthurmalai temple, an ancient place of worship in the Thannimurippu area of Mullaitivu district, frequented by Tamil Hindus.

According to Hindu devotees, the archaeological remains of the temple were removed by Buddhist monks, and a new shrine was built despite a court order banning construction work until the case was resolved. 

Buddhist groups have claimed that the site is linked to their history and justified their decision to construct a new shrine.

Saravanaraja ordered the removal of unlawful construction.

The judge alleged in his resignation letter that the attorney general of Sri Lanka asked him to reverse his order during a meeting on Sept. 21.

His resignation came in the wake of three petitions in the Court of Appeal, a higher court with the power to hear appeals against district court orders. The judge has been named as the first respondent in all the cases in the higher court.  

In recent months, when Hindu devotees tried to engage in religious activities in the temple, they were opposed by the archaeology department and Buddhist groups. However, last month the court granted them permission.

During his inspection in July, Saravanarajah asked for a report from the archaeology department and questioned why a new infrastructure was erected on the disputed site despite a court ban on it.

Human rights groups have called for preserving the independence of the judiciary after the alleged threat to the life of the judge.

“If a judge had to flee the country due to threats, it reflects on the state of the rule of law in the country and the judiciary. If a judge cannot be safe, how can an ordinary citizen be protected?” asked K.S Ratnavel, a human rights lawyer. 

"Those judges who are not giving in to this government agenda” will have to face several challenges to carry out their duties, said the Jaffna University Teachers' Association.

It is not yet clear where Saravanarajah is staying after fleeing the Indian Ocean nation.

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5 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
sri lanka: what a RABID STATE! it is a shame that buddhist monks and buddhist people think that as a majority, they can bend the laws to suit themselves. NO WONDER THEY HAD A THIEVEING BUDDHISTS RAJAPAKSHA FAMILY TO RULE THEM FOR YEARS!!! THE RAJAPAKSHAS ARE BACK IN THE COUNTRY AND THEY HAVE NOT BEEN HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY THE CURRENT PUPPET GOVT. THE BUDDHISTS MONKS AND THE BUDDHIST PEOPLE TOO HAVE NOT SOUGHT JUSTICE. SRI LANKA: BEAUTIFUL PLACE, ROTTEN PEOPLES!
MOHAN MENDIS
Why are all these modayas still talking of rajapakse ghosts? They have been kicked out since last year why are you people still have rajapakse phobia sleepless nights purging in your pants? Move on ...bring on new genuine patriotic leaders who loves SL not rob & power hungry & not let religious monsters mislead the moda masses as they have & continue for 75 years
MOHAN MENDIS
Judge fleeing as a coward must be probed if an unbiased investigation of all aspects are possible by SC. But crime is worse! It proves in this island 2 biggest religions have no unity nor their leadership have any of their beliefs enshrined in their dumb heads to have a war on cement & mud statues! Are we still living in such primitive world?
JOHN MASCARENHAS
JUDGE FLEEING AS A COWARD? what are you trying to say? if you were the judge receiving threats, would you not seek to flee? millions sls earlier fled sl from political/police/military criminals. what happened to the criminals? now dog eat dog society.
JOHN MASCARENHAS
@ mohan mendis: where have the rajapakshas gone ? they are in your backyard enjoying their rewards! and still making millions from the rich resources of sl they have their dirty hands on and from govt contracts. the current puppet is there to save their skin and to skin sls of their birth rights. IF YOU ARE NOT SHITTING IN YOUR PANTS NOW, YOU SHOULD BE HAVING NIGHTMARES ABOUT THE FUTURE! SRI LANKA: BEAUTIFUL PLACE, CRIMINAL PEOPLE.
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