UCA News

Sri Lanka's top court invalidates pardon given to killer

Judges criticize decision by former president Maithripala Sirisena to set murderer of Swedish teen free
Former president Maithripala Sirisena (left) with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at a function in Jaffna on Oct. 17, 2019.

Former president Maithripala Sirisena (left) with the then prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at a function in Jaffna on Oct. 17, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 10, 2024 05:28 AM GMT
Updated: June 10, 2024 05:52 AM GMT

Sri Lanka's top court has invalidated former president Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to grant a presidential pardon based on the recommendation of religious leaders to a convict who murdered a Swedish teenager 19 years ago.

In 2019, Sirisena granted Jude Jayamaha a presidential pardon following his conviction in 2012 for killing Yvonne Johnson in what was known as the ‘Royal Park’ murder case in the Buddhist-majority island nation. Jayamaha was sentenced to death.

At the time, Sirisena had said that senior Buddhist monks and a Catholic bishop campaigned for Jayamaha’s release, by terming the murder an "incident of impatience."

On June 6, the Supreme Court noted that Sirisena’s pardon violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner, who was represented by NGO Women and Media Collective.

S.D. Fernando from the Women and Media Collective said the victim’s parents have had to face severe emotional distress for many years due to Sirisena’s arbitrary decision.

 “The court observed that it was not possible to calculate the mental distress” in terms of money, Fernando added.

“Granting amnesty is an exclusive power vested with the president. It cannot be used in an arbitrary manner,” she told UCA News.

The former president granted amnesty, but failed to provide any explanation, she said.

It is important to set guidelines on presidential pardons, demanded Fernando.

Lawyer P. Mahanamaheva said a presidential amnesty is used as a political weapon in many cases.

Sirisena’s decision was a violation of basic human rights, Mahanamaheva told media on June 7.

There is a formal system comprising a committee in granting presidential pardons in the country, he noted.

According to rights activist Sunil Antony, the judgment could establish a precedent for future presidents.

Jayamaha, from a wealthy, high-profile family, walked free from prison following Sirisena's unusual decision.

Victim Yvonne Jonsson, a dual national whose mother was Sri Lankan, was beaten to death on the stairwell of an apartment in the capital Colombo in 2005 after an argument with Jayamaha, who is reported to have fled the nation.

In 2012, the president's media division claimed that the pardon was granted based on the recommendations of Buddhist religious leaders and a bishop.

In 2019, the media claimed that Bishop Raymond Wickremasinghe of Galle supported the amnesty. However, the bishop clarified that his endorsement, made years before the pardon, was for the general rehabilitation of prisoners and did not specifically refer to Jayamaha.

A priest attached to Colombo archdiocese clarified that the bishop never requested an amnesty pardon for the convict.

Politicians exploited his statement for their own gain, he alleged.

"The judgment is a step towards improving societal quality,” the priest, who preferred not to be named, told UCA News on June 7.

Fernando said that it was highly inappropriate for religious leaders to request the president's intervention in releasing a murderer.

Using religious leaders for political gain sets a “negative precedent,” noted activist R. Nilantha.

The Supreme Court has asked Sirisena to pay compensation to the Women and Media Collective and the deceased girl's parents.

On Jan. 12, the Supreme Court asked Sirisena and others to pay compensation totaling 310 million rupees (some US$980,000) to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.

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