By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Colombo October 9 (Daily News): Sri Lanka’s Opposition politicians are ready to grab any weapon to attack the government as they have run out of issues. In the rush to make allegations against the ruling party, they put their feet in their mouths again and again. The latest weapon they have picked up in their witch hunt is the release of the detained Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), leader Rishad Bathiudeen.
They have conveniently forgotten that the power to discharge a suspect lies solely with the judiciary and the crime investigations by police, and that any attempt to question that right is an attempt to interfere in free and fair justice.
As Irrigation and State Minister of Internal Security Chamal Rajapaksa clarified in Parliament on Tuesday (October 6), the release of former minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother Riyaj arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday carnage did not mean that he had been cleared of all charges. It was a decision taken by the courts and it can also decide to order the arrest of the suspect if new evidence linked to him surfaces.
The issue was raised in Parliament by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Chaminda Wijesiri. In reply, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that Riyaj had been taken into custody on April 14, 2020 on suspicion of having connections with Insaf Ahmed, the terrorist who blew himself up at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo during the terror attacks that took place on April 21, 2019. The CID found out that there were 17 calls made by the suspect to the terrorist. Initially, the suspect had been detained under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for three days for questioning and thereafter permission of the courts were obtained twice for three months each. But the investigators found that the suspect and the terrorists had no terror links. The calls had been made for business purposes.
“There is no evidence to prove that the suspect aided and abetted the terrorist(s) to carry out the attacks, and, therefore he was released on Sept 29, 2020. The last call was three months prior to the attacks. However, if there is new evidence, he will be arrested again,” the Minister said.
He further said that 130 employees in public institutions and statutory institutions had been interrogated with regard to the Easter Sunday terror attack. After interrogations it had been found that some of them were innocent. They had been released. Ten employees in public institutions and statutory institutions had been arrested on terror charges. Their cases are pending before courts. With regard to some others in custody, the police have sought the Attorney General’s instructions.
The Members of the Opposition and irresponsible social media activists blatantly challenged the decision of the courts and tried to interpret it as a political ‘deal’ to get Rishad Bathiudeen’s support to the government.
These wild allegations were levelled despite the categorical statement issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the government has not entered into any political deal with MP Rishad Bathiudeen. Reiterating his absolute commitment to the safety and security of the country and the people, the President stated in a Facebook post that “ensuring national security is the first and foremost responsibility of my government”.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he is not prepared to hand over the power of arresting or arbitrarily releasing people to politicians, as happened in the past. “I will also take action to rectify any omissions or mistakes made by the relevant authorities or officials,” said the President.
“I emphasize that our government has not entered into any political deal with MP Rishad Bathiudeen,” he said and assured citizens that he will not forsake the trust that they have placed in him and he will most certainly continue to work towards strengthening this trust.
Cabinet spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that since there are some concerns over Bathiudeen he should not be taken into the government. The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Permauna (SLPP) also announced that neither the government nor the SLPP had entered into any agreement with MP Rishad Bathiudeen. “There is no discussion or any idea to absorb MP Bathiudeen in the government,” SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said.
However, responding to a question asked at the SLPP weekly news briefing over the concerns raised by Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith over the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen, MP Kariyawasam called for an immediate investigation into the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen. “We request the Defense Secretary to launch an immediate investigation into the incident and to find out if there has been any irregularity in the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen,” he said.
Minister Wimal Weerawansa, known for his outspoken statements, said that the government is not stupid to have any deal with Bathiudeen. He said that if any attempt is made to allow Bathiudeen to join the government he will be chased out. Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa too said the government maintains its stand that it will not have any dealings with extremists.
Furthermore, Rishad Bathiudeen clarified that his party, the All Ceylon Makkal Congress, did not have any agreement with the government nor has it had any talks with the government.
The people have the highest expectations from law enforcement institutions. The police have the fullest responsibility of probing crimes, arrest suspects and also discharge a person if there is no sufficient evidence to prove his guilt.
Hence, politicians should not jump to give their own interpretations of ‘political deals’ when a suspect is arrested or discharged. It is not a sign of a mature democracy. Constantly questioning the capacity to interpret the law is akin to constantly questioning the legitimacy of politicians to even make any law in the first place. In the past, we have seen ugly scenes such as stone throwing at the houses of judges who had given verdicts that were not seen as being favorable to the party in power at that time. The members of the Opposition should think, not twice but several times, before challenging a Court decision merely to score brownie points over the ruling party.
(The featured image at the top shows Rishad BAthiudeen (on the left), and his brother Riaj Bathiudeen. Photo: Hiru News)