EDITORIAL : Protests and the rule of law

23 April 2015 06:57 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The breakdown of the rule of law and the serious damage caused to the independence of the judiciary were among the main factors that led to the disillusionment of the public and the defeat of the previous regime on January 9. 

Bauddhaloka Mawatha especially the stretch where the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption is situated has become the latest protesting point for pro-Rajapaksa allies. The latest protest was conducted yesterday even aftar the police had obtained an order from the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court to prevent such an occurrence. 

Despite the police efforts, the protest took place. It was led by Pivithuru Hel UIrumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila who is a member of the Western Provincial Council and himself a lawyer and several other opposition MPs. Among those participating in the protest were the former President’s son Namal Rajapaksa who appeared as a lawyer earlier in the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court when his uncle and former minister Basil Rajapaksa was produced and remanded on fraud charges relating to the Economic Development Ministry and the Divineguma Department. 

During the former regime when there were allegations  that the Police Department was also politicised. The police had several times obtained court orders not only to stop protests but also the funeral procession for Katunayake Free Trade Zone worker Roshen Chanaka who had been shot dead in a police shoot out. Court orders had also been obtained to prevent protests outside the Fort railway station by civil rights activists, trade unions and university students. The police claimed it would cause a public disturbance. In that era whenever attempts were made to defy such orders, the police attacked the protesting groups with water cannon and tear gas.

Such drastic action cannot be taken under the Yahapalanaya administration of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Police Media Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said yesterday action would be taken against those who violated the court order and held the protest outside the offices of the Commission probing allegations of Bribery or Corruption. He said the proper legal procedure would be followed with a report being filed in court giving the names of those who defied the court order. 

The principles of democracy and good governance broke down in the earlier era when not only politicians but even criminal gang leaders went about doing what they wished. As a result the rule of law broke down and the public lost faith in the criminal justice system. This in turn contributed to corruption as well. Reports show that a staggering 40 per cent of our gross national product had been plundered through bribery and corruption. 

In the spirit of the new political culture that is evolving -- with the major step being the 19th Amendment to be debated in Parliament next week -- no one, not even the President or the Prime Minister, is above the law. All people are equal before the law and must act according to the rule of law. For 67 years after independence most politicians suffered from the delusion that they were above the law or had special powers and privileges. Now it seems some groups and politicians are finding it difficult to accept the principle that no one is above the law. 

Earlier as in the case of the treatment dished out to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka people were dragged into custody while some even were abducted or killed in an extra judicial way. Now when there is a process to restore law and order with the courts and other institutions like the bribery and corruption commission allowed to act independently, the sovereign people need to assert their rights and insist that the historic mandate they gave on January 8 be fully implemented. 

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