D. B. S. Jeyaraj
wo days before the advent of the “Pilava” April New Year on April 12, Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala released 11 suspects who had been in custody for two years since early 2019. These included well-known underworld figure Sanjeewa Samararatne alias Ganemulla Sanjeewa a.k.a. Malingamuwe Sanjeewa and ten others who were in custody for allegedly plotting to assassinate Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District Parliamentarian Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran and several other charges. Alongside the plot to assassinate M. A. Sumanthiran MP, investigators had been probing related threats including digging up claymore mines and T- 56 assault rifles supposedly buried in the North by the LTTE, smuggling the same to Colombo and suburbs and trading with underworld figures.
Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala released the 11 suspects due to Police Officers investigating the case declaring to court that the Attorney General had said there was insufficient evidence to proceed further against 11 of the 15 suspects in custody. The AG Dappula de Livera had advised the Police that there was not enough evidence to prosecute this group of 11. The Attorney-General had also advised Police to make preparations for prosecuting the remaining four suspects in the near future.
Colombo CID had earlier in 2018/9 arrested these 15 individuals, including Ganemulla Sanjeewa allegedly acting on revelations by a former LTTE member who was arrested in Wattala carrying arms. Ganemulla Sanjeewa was already in remand for another case when he was arrested for the present charges. The CID began investigating him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on suspicion for plotting to assassinate M. A. Sumanthiran MP and for smuggling and trading weapons.
Initially, twelve suspects were arrested. This was followed up by the arrests of three more persons. They were produced before Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne. (B/6284/01/19).
15 Persons Detained
The 15 persons detained under the PTA were 1. Rasalingam Sivaraj. 2.Kalyanakumara Sashikumar, 3. G.P.M.P. Kavinda Pathirana, 4. K.K.M.D. Vijaya Siriwardena, 5. K.P.I.R. Karunanayake Pathirana, 6. M.D. Nimal Harshana, 7. M.K. Pradeep Deshapriya, 8. A. Prabhakar Wickremasinghe, 9.F.S. Jonathan Dadlili, 10. W. Jude Niroshan, 11. W. Salan Kumara, 12. Kanapathy Kathiravelu, 13. K. Udeshitha Viduranga, 14. R. A. Amila Nuwan, 15. Sanjeeva Samararatne alias Ganemulla Sanjeewa a.k.a. Malingamuwe Sanjeewa.
Eleven of the fifteen suspects including Sanjeewa have now been released on the advice of the A-G. At the time of this article being written, it had not been possible to find out who the other 10 released persons were. According to the names in the indictment, 11 were Sinhala speaking and four were Tamil – speaking. It is not known yet whether the 11 Sinhala persons have been released while the four Tamil persons are being held pending prosecution. Another matter that is unclear at this juncture is whether the AG has determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute over the alleged conspiracy to assassinate Sumanthiran only or whether there was not enough evidence regarding the allegations regarding illicit trade in weapons also.
The release of Ganemulla Sanjeewa and 10 others suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate Jaffna MP Sumanthiran has evoked much concern as well as controversy. Supporters and well-wishers of the Tamil parliamentarian are worried about his personal security. It is no secret that several conspiracies have been hatched and abortive attempts made in the past to assassinate Sumanthiran. Viewed against this backdrop it is understandable that the recent release of suspects gives cause for concern.
However, it must be emphasised that detaining persons in custody indefinitely under the draconian PTA without sufficient evidence to prosecute would amount to a travesty of justice. What is most troubling in the case of Sumanthiran is that the Gotabaya Government which is fully aware of the life threats faced by Sumanthiran withdrew the Police Special Task Force (STF) security provided to him some weeks ago. This naturally renders the MP extremely vulnerable.
Apart from the MSD security provided to all MPs, special security in the form of an STF detail had been assigned for Sumanthiran’s protection in the past following the uncovering of plots to assassinate the Jaffna MP. The State was duty-bound to provide security because there was a credible threat to the life of the democratically elected legislator. Nevertheless, it must be noted with concern that the serious question of providing security for Sumanthiran has been treated lightly in cavalier fashion by the powers that be.
When intelligence reports warned of a fresh enhanced threat to Sumanthiran during the 2020 Parliamentary election campaign, the Rajapaksa regime promptly doubled the number of the STF contingent providing security to him
STF protection was first provided for Sumanthiran in early 2017. It was taken away in November 2018 during the anti-constitutional coup 52-day saga. STF protection was restored in March 2019. It was discontinued in November 2019 after the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. STF protection was provided to Sumanthiran again in January 2020. During the 2020 Parliamentary election campaign, the STF detail was doubled in strength. Then again in February this year, the STF protection for Sumanthiran was removed. This action by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara was criticised by many but STF security was not restored.
It is noteworthy that Sumanthiran himself had at no stage requested for special security. It was the Government of Sirisena-Wickremesinghe and the Government of Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajapaksa that had afforded the MP special STF protection because there was a dangerous security threat. The removal and restoration of STF security for Sumanthiran have been purely Governmental decisions all along.
It was the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Police that first unearthed details of a conspiracy to assassinate Sumanthiran. The then TID Director DIG Nalaka de Silva himself took personal charge and began directing his officials in the probe. After an intensive probe, it was on December 23, 2016, that the TID had concrete proof of a plot against Sumanthiran. Investigations continued and arrests were made.
According to information uncovered by the TID, the would-be assassins had attempted thrice to target the TNA Parliamentarian. Their efforts had proved abortive due to circumstances beyond their control. All three attempts were aimed at assassinating Sumanthiran by using explosive devices while he was travelling along the B-402 Soranpatru-Thaalayadi Road in the Jaffna peninsula. The MP was travelling to or from Maruthankerny. The Jaffna MP was unaware of all three attempts until the arrest of suspects afterwards.
STF protection given for the first time to Sumanthiran in January 2017 following the detection of the plot by some former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to assassinate the MP in the Maruthankerny area of the Jaffna peninsula. The conspiracy was hatched by extremist Tigerish elements in the global Tamil Diaspora. Currently, a case has been filed in this regard against five persons- including one in absentia - under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) at the Colombo High Court (HC 242/2018).
The Five persons charged in what is termed as the Maruthankerny conspiracy are 1.Karalasingham Kulendran alias Solai Kumaran alias Master. 2. Lewis Marianayagam Ajanthan alias Kadalan alias Jana.3. Murugiah Thevendran alias Venthan.4. Gnanasekaralingam Rasmathan alias Mathan alias Barathan. The 5th accused being tried in absentia is Mahathmaji Anojan alias Kanthan alias Vetri who is reportedly in Australia. The case has been proceeding at the Colombo High Court for quite some time now. Sumanthiran himself would be giving evidence on June 30, this year.
Apart from this Maruthankerny conspiracy to assassinate Sumanthiran, law enforcement authorities have detected several other plots targeting the TNA Parliamentarian at different times. Almost every attempt to revive the LTTE again in Sri Lanka through acts of violence after the war ended in 2009 have been “involving” Sumanthiran as a target. At least one such attempt pre-dates the Maruthankerny conspiracy. In the case of several assassination plots detected earlier, it had been assumed wrongly that the intended targets were Douglas Devananda or Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna. Subsequently, investigators were shocked to know that the real target was Sumanthiran.
Overseas Tigers and their fellow travellers - many of them financially well-endowed members of the global Tamil Diaspora -have been consistently aiming to assassinate Sumanthiran by financing economically impoverished ex-LTTE cadres in Sri Lanka. Several Tamils numbering between 15 to 20 have been taken into custody over the years as suspects in this respect.
The Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government is fully cognizant of all aspects concerning Jaffna MP Sumanthiran’s security. When intelligence reports warned of a fresh enhanced threat to Sumanthiran during the 2020 Parliamentary election campaign, the Rajapaksa regime promptly doubled the number of the STF contingent providing security to him. Elaborate precautions were taken by the STF when Sumanthiran moved around in the Thenmaratchy and Pachchilaippalli AGA divisions in the south of the Jaffna peninsula. According to intelligence reports, the life threat to Sumanthiran was very high at that time in these two sectors.
In December last year, there was strong pressure on the Gotabaya Government to remove the STF security provided to Sumanthiran. This was due to an incident during late November when the LTTE’s “Maa Veerar Naal” (Great Heroes Day) was observed on November 27. The 86- year-old widowed mother of a former LTTE Jaffna military commander went to courts seeking permission to commemorate her departed son publicly on that special day where fallen tigers were remembered. Her son Ravindran alias “Capt” Pandithar had been killed in Atchuvely in January 1985.
Sumanthiran who is also a President’s Counsel appeared for Ravindran’s mother in court.
Courts ruled that a public mourning was not possible but stated that she could commemorate her son privately. Courts also instructed Sumanthiran that he as her lawyer should explain to the old mother what exactly she could do or not do in this instance. Sumanthiran, therefore, went the extra mile by going to the residence – a small shed - of his client at Kambarmalai and explained to her in detail. When the old lady commemorated her son at home, Sumanthiran too participated as a matter of courtesy.
Sumanthiran’s conduct was perceived as a “Terrible act” by some in close proximity to the upper echelons of power. The Government was urged to remove Sumanthiran’s security. But when a threat assessment was made by security and intelligence personnel, it was discovered that Sumanthiran continued to face a huge security threat. Moreover, fresh intelligence reports indicated that the threat was more enhanced in scope and that the Jaffna District MP faced danger even in Colombo. Therefore it was decided to continue with STF protection.
In January 2021, the newly appointed Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera sent a note to Sumanthiran in Parliament that he wanted to meet him. When they met, Minister Weerasekara informed Sumanthiran of the recent threat assessment and the enhanced danger to his security. The minister assured Sumanthiran that his STF security would not be removed even though “some” clamoured for it. Yet the same minister Weerasekara was to remove Sumanthiran’s STF security without notice a month later in early February. Furthermore the Public Security Minister reiterated in Parliament that Sumanthiran’s STF security had been removed though the MP faced a security threat.
What the retired Rear-Admiral does not seem to have realised is that if something untoward were to happen to Sumanthiran due to the security removal, the greater part of the responsibility or blame would have to be borne by the Public Security Minister himself
“Pottuvil to Poligandy”
What irked the Government in this instance seemed to have been the successful “Pottuvil to Poligandy” (P2P) protest march in which Sumanthiran played a Pivotal role. After the P2P protest ended, the commanding officer of the Special Task Force (STF) contingent in charge of Sumanthiran’s personal security informed the Jaffna District MP that his superiors had ordered him to return as a decision had been taken to stop providing STF security further. The Jaffna District MP referred to this removal of STF security in Parliament then. After explaining what the P2P protest was about and observing that it was conducted peacefully, Sumanthiran said: “The special security given to me was removed the moment this event was over.”
Sumanthiran went on to say in Parliament that he himself had not complained to anyone about facing a security threat and that it was the Government which had stated so and provided special security. Waving a file with particulars, Sumanthiran said that there were cases filed in this regard at the Colombo High Court and Chief Magistrate’s Court. He also said that over 30 suspects including Sinhala underworld members were in custody. All this was because the State had proclaimed there was a threat to his life. Continuing further the Jaffna District MP asked why the Government has withdrawn his special security if there was a security threat against him and made three related observations.
Firstly he said the Government may have removed his security despite the threat because it was annoyed due to his participation in the successful protest event. Secondly, he said that if indeed there was no security threat, the State had arrested and detained over 30 innocent persons. Thirdly he said the security removal may have the sinister motive of giving signals to those who want to harm him. Sumanthiran concluded by saying, “If anything untoward happened (to him), the Government must bear full responsibility.”
Subsequently, Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara told ‘Hiru’ TV that the Special Task Force security assigned for Tamil National Alliance MP M. A. Sumanthiran was removed on his orders. The Minister said the special security was removed as Sumanthiran had participated in a protest march despite claiming to have threats to his life. Minister Weerasekara argued that if Sumanthiran’s life was in threat, then he would not have participated in a public event. He further said the Police protection provided to all Parliamentarians will continue to be provided to MP Sumanthiran as he is entitled to it.
Cabinet Minister Weerasekara’s comments were rather puzzling and somewhat amusing. What the retired Rear-Admiral does not seem to have realised is that if something untoward were to happen to Sumanthiran due to the security removal, the greater part of the responsibility or blame would have to be borne by the Public Security Minister himself.
The removal of Sumanthiran’s STF security in February and the release in April of eleven suspects allegedly involved in an assassination plot targeting Sumanthiran have given rise to many doubts and fears. Although the removal of security and release of suspects could be two unrelated events there are many who are perturbed. Some people worried about Sumanthiran’s safety and security and suspect a linkage between the removal and release. Even though the Gotabaya Government in general and its Gung Ho Public Security minister, in particular, may not be fully aware, the perceived threat to Sumanthiran’s life has caused much concern to members of the diplomatic community stationed in Colombo, officials of the UN in New York and Geneva and a wide range of Human rights organisations and activists all over the world.
This is because many of these people opine that the security threat faced by Sumanthiran is very real. It is an incontrovertible fact that the LTTE elements overseas and pro-Tiger elements within Sri Lanka are extremely antagonistic towards Sumanthiran. He has been continuously attacked viciously by Tiger and pro-Tiger media organs. The Diaspora Tigers spent huge sums of money to defeat Sumanthiran at the 2015 elections. Sumanthiran won handsomely but the people backed by the overseas Tigers lost badly.
Thereafter the Tigers orchestrated a campaign to abuse and humiliate Sumanthiran publicly at different places in Jaffna and in western countries like Australia, Britain and Switzerland. The idea was to pressurise Sumanthiran into quitting politics. This too did not happen. Since then the overseas LTTE changed its approach and opted to eliminate Sumanthiran through assassination. Such attempts have become a continual saga and are worthy of recounting in detail in a forthcoming article.
D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org