COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya on Wednesday petitioned the Court of Appeal for a retrial of the Nadarjah Raviraj assassination case by a judge and not a jury, and under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), not ordinary law.
The Colombo High Court had acquitted the five persons accused of killing Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian N.Raviraj on the basis of the view of an all-Sinhalese jury.
The judge had ordered trial by jury under ordinary law, ignoring the fact that one of the charges against the accused was under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which does not allow trial by jury, M.A.Sumanthiran, counsel for Raviraj’s family told Express.
“When there is a charge under a special law like the PTA, it over rides normal law, and the entire judicial process has to be held under the provisions of the PTA,” Sumanthiran said.
The accused were charged under PTA because the victim, Raviraj, was a member of parliament and a leading Tamil politician.
Predictably, the all-Sinhalese jury acquitted all the five accused on the grounds that there was no clinching evidence against them.
Human rights activists protested against the trial by an all-Sinhalese jury in a politically charged case involving the sentiments of two communities. But others like the Joint Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, castigated Sumanthiran for injecting ethno-centric politics into established judicial practice.
The law permits the accused to be tried by a jury and even to demand an all-Sinhalese or an all-Tamil jury ,Rajapaksa said.
“One cannot assume that the jury will necessarily be communal minded. In a case I had in Batticaloa, an all-Tamil jury found a Tamil accused guilty,” Rajapaksa recalled.
But Sumanthiran’s argument is that the High Court might have come to a different conclusion if the trial was by a judge (whose would strictly go by the law and available evidence) and not a jury. In a jury, sentiments might play a role. And at any rate, legally, the trial should have taken place under the PTA in which case the process would have been more stringent, he asserted.
Raviraj, who represented Jaffna District in parliament as a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) member, died in hospital after being shot by unidentified gunmen in Colombo on November 10, 2006.
Those accused in the case were Prasad Chandana Kumara, Gamini Kumara, Pradeep Chaminda, Sivakanthan Vivekanandan alias Karan and Xavier Royston Christopher Hussein. Another accused Palaniswamy Suresh had died. Three of the accused were naval intelligence personnel. Two from the pro-government “Karuna” faction of the LTTE, had absconded.