Sri Lanka opposition MPs fly off to Geneva to secure release of imprisoned colleague

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ECONOMYNEXT – Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, two MPs representing Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), took off to Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday (01) morning, purportedly to make a case for the release of incarcerated former SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake at the UN human rights council (UNHRC).

Nanayakkara told reporters at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) that the SJB has been compelled to go to the international community to secure Ramanayake’s release. However, it is unclear to what extent the UNHRC can intervene in the matter.

The two MPs visit to Geneva also coincides with the beginning of the 49th session of the UNHRC, where Sri Lanka’s human rights record is expected to be closely scrutinised.

The island nation’s Supreme Court sentenced Ramanayake to four years’ rigorous imprisonment on January 12, 2021, over contempt of court charges, in connection with disparaging remarks he had allegedly made about the judiciary in August 2017.

“There is no clear mention of punishment for charges of contempt of court in Sri Lanka,” said Nanayakkara.

“There is no place in Sri Lanka to appeal this,” he added.

The only possible recourse, which is the presidential pardon, has also been denied several times, he said, despite appeals by several parties including opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa.

MP Nanayakkara also said there is speculation that the actor-turned-politicians continued imprisonment is due to political reasons.

Imprisonment over contempt of court charges is legal but is increasingly seen as inappropriate and disproportionate, according to Director, Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, Dr Asanga Welikala.

According to Welikala, the power to punish for contempt of court lies completely at the discretion of the court. Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, he said, where English law principles are used like in Sri Lanka, many countries have introduced legislation to regulate contempt of court powers.

“Such Acts balance the need to ensure respect for the judiciary with the freedom of expression, and impose limits on punishments. Generally imprisonment, rigorous or otherwise, is now regarded as an inappropriate and disproportionate form of punishment for contempt offences. A public apology should suffice,” he told EconomyNext on January 12.

As per Article 34 of the constitution, the president is vested with the power to grant a special presidential pardon to an individual convicted by the court.  (Colombo/Mar01/2022)

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