Lawyers and civil rights activists demonstrate Wednesday in Colombo, demanding that Chief Justice Mohan Peiris resign his post (Photo by Quintus Colombage)
Sri Lanka's new president on Wednesday restored the country's former chief justice after she was controversially impeached by the previous administration.
Lawyers welcomed Shirani Bandaranayake with bouquets of flowers when she went to the Supreme Court in Colombo after receiving the news.
A government official who asked not to be named said President Maithripala Sirisena had written to Bandaranayake to say her 2013 impeachment was unconstitutional and she should return to work.
"The chief justice was restored and the imposter was asked to go," said the official, referring to Mohan Peiris, who was appointed to the role by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sirisena had vowed in his election manifesto to restore Bandaranayake, who was sacked in 2013 after her judgments went against Rajapaksa’s regime.
Despite a chorus of criticism at home and abroad, Rajapaksa appointed Peiris, the government's senior legal adviser, as her replacement.
Bandaranayake's sacking was widely criticized, with the UN Human Rights Council calling it an assault on judicial independence.
Since Rajapakse's dramatic defeat at the January 8 elections, Peiris had been under pressure to stand down after he was implicated in an alleged coup attempt to keep the former leader in power.
Police have opened a criminal investigation into claims that Rajapaksa tried to use military force and that Peiris was trying to provide legal justification for him to stay on in office.
There was no immediate comment from Peiris.
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of lawyers and civil rights activists took to the streets of Colombo, demanding that Peiris resign.
Demonstrators marched in front of the Supreme Court, shouting slogans and holding posters urging Peiris to step down.
JC Weliamuna, a leading human rights lawyer and former executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, said Peiris had no moral right to remain chief justice, saying that the impeached former chief justice, Bandaranayake, should be reinstated.
“The impeachment of … Bandaranayake was unconstitutional, therefore no one can be replaced in her position,” Weliamuna said.
Upul Jayasuriya, president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, echoed Weliamuna’s criticisms.
“We are demanding the government to remove Chief Justice Peiris from his position immediately, protecting the honor and dignity of that position,” he said.
Additional reporting by Quintus Colombage