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Ranil still has the majority; 117 MPs express confidence in former PM

Sri Lanka Parliament passed a Vote of Confidence today stating that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe commands the confidence of Parliament to function as Prime Minister. 117 MPs supported the motion.

The motion of confidence was submitted by UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa. UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera seconded the motion. 

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked everyone who supported the confidence motion and added that it was the duty of all political parties to respect the Constitutional provisions.

Meanwhile, members of the UPFA boycotted today’s Parliamentary session.

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Sri Lankan housemaid forced into prostitution in Bahrain

A 36-year-old Sri Lankan housemaid in Bahrain has claimed that she was tortured and forced into prostitution for almost two years, the Gulf Daily News reported on Monday.

The victim says she survived only on bread and was made to sleep with up to 20 men every day.

A 40-year-old Bangladeshi is facing charges including forcing the victim into prostitution, holding her against her will, theft, assault and operating an illegal vice network.

His alleged accomplice, a 43-year-old Sri Lankan woman, is still at large and being tried in absentia.

The victim told investigators that she had been tricked by the defendants, who allegedly promised to help her find employment and provided shelter at an apartment.

“The 43-year-old called some Asian men and demanded I have sex with them. When I refused she took my money, Bahrain Dinar (BD) 100, my phone, a gold necklace and three gold rings and threatened to beat me if I didn’t comply. When the men came in I was forced to sleep with them out of fear of my captors. When I refused the 43-year-old would beat me up, punch me and pull my hair. She would also use pepper, water and salt and burn my private parts to torture me. I did their bidding for two years because I was afraid and, if I refused, they would assault me,” the victim said in her statement to prosecutors.

The woman said clients paid anywhere between BD7 and BD30 to have sex with her, but the cash was pocketed by her alleged captors.
“I would plead with customers to help me, but none of them did,” she said.

“When the 43-year-old heard this she would beat me even more.

“I tried to escape many times, but I failed and I would get beaten for my attempts.”

However, she said she seized her chance to escape in July when another woman, from Indonesia, entered the apartment where she was being held.

“She (the Indonesian woman) gave me the key to an apartment and told me to head there because a customer was waiting,” the victim said.
“She told me she would follow in 15 minutes, but I grabbed the key and ran away to the police station.

“I could never run away before because the defendants were always nearby.”

The victim added that she first moved to Bahrain to work as a housemaid for a Bahraini family, but ran away just one month into the job.

She said she then spent five months working for an Indian family, but was left jobless when that family moved away.

That is when she says she turned to the defendants for help.

“I kept searching for work in Riffa and whenever I would run into a Sri Lankan I would ask if they knew of any job opening,” the victim said.

“The male defendant said he had a job for me and took me to the 43-year-old Sri Lankan woman at an apartment.”

The Bangladeshi defendant has previously claimed during questioning at the Public Prosecution that his female co-defendant was the mastermind behind the vice racket.

He and a 41-year-old Indonesian woman, who has been charged with prostitution, were arrested during a police raid on September 5.

The trial has been adjourned until December 23 for a lawyer to be appointed for the Bangladeshi, while an arrest warrant has been issued for his female Sri Lankan co-defendant.

(Gulf Daily News)

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Petition against Mahinda Rajapaksa's Premiership postponed

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday postponed until next month the hearing of a petition restraining Mahinda Rajapaksa and his purported government from functioning amidst a political crisis that erupted after the sacking of premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

122 MPs from the United National Party (UNP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) filed a Writ of Quo Warranto questioning the legitimacy of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his 'purported' Cabinet.

The Appeal Court ordered to hear the petition on January 16, 17 and 18.

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Petition submitted to Court of Appeal to check Sirisena's mental health

A writ petition was filed in the Court of Appeal (CA) today seeking an order directing the IGP to go to the District Courts to inquire into the state of mind of President Maithripala Sirisena.  

Thakshila Lakmali Jayawardena has filed the writ petition seeking the CA to issue a mandate in the nature of a Writ of Mandamus against the OIC of the Fort Police Head Quarters and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) directing them to institute judicial proceedings in District Courts by virtue of Section 2 of the Mental Diseases Ordinance for the purpose of inquiring the state of mind of President Maithripala Sirisena.

Last week, UNP MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka proposed to move a Bill in Parliament to check the mental health of lawmakers, including the President as practiced in the United States.

UNP parliamentarian Mujibur Rahman too said that it was essential to check the psychological condition of President Sirisena as the whole country has doubts regarding his state of mind.

"He is telling us something the morning and then goes on to say something completely different in the evening. It`s terrible that the executive president of the country is behaving in such a manner," Rahman said.

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Sri Lankan immigrant jailed for repeatedly abusing two minors in Australia 

A babysitter who sexually abused two seven-year-old boys in Perth has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison and is likely to be deported to Sri Lanka after serving his term.

Dayanthan Stanley Mohanraj, 19, was convicted after a trial of four counts of sexually penetrating a child in 2016, when he was babysitting on a casual basis.

Stanley Mohanraj showed one boy pornography and later sexually abused the child in a public toilet, then threatened to kill him if he told his parents what happened.

He separately abused the same boy in a playroom and on another day attacked both children while they were playing, telling them to keep it a secret, the West Australian District Court heard on Tuesday.

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Judge Vicki Stewart said Stanley Mohanraj lacked remorse and was unwilling to accept responsibility for his offending against two vulnerable children (file photo) 

Judge Vicki Stewart said Stanley Mohanraj lacked remorse and was unwilling to accept responsibility for his offending against two vulnerable children, which involved a serious breach of trust.

'You took advantage of these two young boys. This is abuse of the most serious kind,' she said.

'You were in a position of authority. You were trusted to look after these children.

'You made comments to each boy to secure their silence.'

Stanley Mohanraj came to Australia from Sri Lanka in 2012, but his family's refugee status has been rejected and they are in the process of appealing in the Federal Court.

He must serve at least three-and-a-half years behind bars before he can be eligible for parole and will then likely be deported.

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Norway partners with UNDP Sri Lanka to support peace, justice and strong institutions

The Government of Norway entered into a partnership agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka to extend support to UNDP Sri Lanka’s flagship portfolio on SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions project for the period December 2018 2018 to December 2020.

The Ambassador of Norway to Sri Lanka and Maldives, H.E. Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther and UNDP Sri Lanka Country Director Mr. Jorn Sorensen signed the partnership agreement amounting to NOK 12.6 million (USD 1.5 million).

Under the partnership, UNDP aims to strengthen select policymaking and oversight structures to perform core functions for improved accountability and inclusivity, provide marginalized and vulnerable communities increased and equitable access to justice, including demand-driven legal protection and gender sensitive services. It also aims to strengthen the capacity of national and sub-national level institutions to deliver equitable, accountable and effective services.

Through the implementation of this project, UNDP expects by 2022, people in Sri Lanka, especially the marginalized and vulnerable, benefit from more rights-based, accountable, inclusive and effective public institutions, to enhance trust amongst communities and towards the State.

Commenting on the project, Norwegian Ambassador H. E. Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther said, “Norway is pleased to support UNDP’s Flagship Portfolio on SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions project, particularly because United Nations is globally accepted to promote human rights and Sustainable Development Goals.”

He further stated that effective public institutions are crucial to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and to provide access to justice for all. “At present when Sri Lanka is going through difficult times, some of the positive developments that we see in the country are due to the work done in the past to strengthen institutions. Therefore, as development partners, it is crucial that we continue to support the work that UN does to promote peace, justice and strong institutions.”

Also speaking about this project, UNDP Sri Lanka Country Director Jorn Sorensen stated, “the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda is a call to action, and requires us all coming together to work towards a common goal of sustainable development. As such, UNDP is pleased to be extending our collaboration with the Government of Norway – a longstanding partner of UNDP - to ensure a sustainable Sri Lanka.”

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Sirisena implores TNA to support him; promises to accede to all of their demands 

A special meeting was held between the Tamil National Alliance and President Maithripala Sirisena this morning.

According to political sources, Sirisena has requested the TNA to abstain from supporting the UNP motion to that is to be presented in parliament today to express confidence in ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

It is also reported that President Sirisena had promised to accede to all of TNA’s requests if they are loyal to him.  Sirisena had intimated that it was Wickremesinghe who was responsible for destroying the country and pointed out that the UNP leader was the one who had rejected all of Sirisena’s proposals with regard to the devolution of power with the support of racist political parties.

It is also reported that the President had promised to release all Tamil prisoners, even tomorrow, if the TNA were to extend their support to him.

Sources also said that the TNA parliamentarians who attended the meeting had left without giving a response to the president’s requests.

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Political crisis continue to hurt Sri Lankan tourism industry 

The month of December usually marks the beginning of tourism season in Sri Lanka. Visitors come to the Indian Ocean island nation to enjoy its beaches, historic places, interesting nature and tasty food.

Tourism represents about 5 percent of the country’s USD 87-billion economy.

But Sri Lanka’s current political environment is keeping visitors away. Observers are worried about the possible economic effects.

In late October, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed the country’s prime minister and appointed a new government. The move came as a surprise.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who replaced Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, lacks a parliamentary majority. After two no-confidence motions against Rajapaksa were passed in parliament, the Court of Appeal issued a stay order against Rajapaksa from assuming office. 

High season for travelers to Sri Lanka usually runs from December to March. Most visitors come from Europe, India and China. But many trips are being canceled, especially among Europeans. The Reuters news agency received that information from someone at the national Sri Lankan airlines. The person asked not to be identified.

The person told Reuters that, “The crisis started just when tourists take a decision where to go...It has discouraged many of them.”

Chandra Mohotti is manager of the high-end Galle Face Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. She said that 20 percent of planned visits to the area have been canceled. She said that normally, the 200-room hotel would be filled at this time of year. But instead, the hotel has been forced to offer low-cost rates to appeal to tourists.

The crisis has also affected business travel. Sanath Ukwatte, president of the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, said some companies have chosen to move their planned events to Singapore, Indonesia and other places in Southeast Asia.

Harith Perera is president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators. He said if the current situation continues, the economic effects “will be significant.”

More than 2.1 million people visited Sri Lanka in 2017, tourism officials say.

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Human rights and guarantees of transitional justice at risk: Amnesty International

The sudden appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in October, and the ensuing constitutional crisis, means that human rights and guarantees of transitional justice may be in peril for the future, Amnesty International said. 

In its annual human rights report, Amnesty highlighted many positive developments in the country that were initiated by the former government before it was ousted by president Sirisena in late October coup. 

These included the long overdue setting up of the Office of Missing Persons, the passing of an Act to set up an Office of Reparations, and the return of some of the private land in the north that had been seized by the military. 

"In Sri Lanka, Sandhya Eknaligoda, a prominent campaigner for justice for families of the disappeared, who has endured years of hostility and smear campaigns, won an important court victory after a hardline Buddhist monk who had threatened her was imprisoned for six months. In September, President Maithripala Sirisena ordered the arrest of an army officer over the 2010 enforced disappearance of Sandhya’s husband, Prageeth Eknaligoda," Amnesty International said. 

However, with the political crisis showing no signs of coming to an end soon, independent observers are concerned on the effects it may have on the country's human rights and transitional justice mechanisms.

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SLFP Minister Thilina Bandara Thennakoon joins UNP

Former Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Central Province Minister Thilina Bandara Thennakoon have obtained the membership of the United National Party.

Thennakoon met UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at Temple Trees today. 

It is also reported that many SLFP members, especially at the grassroots level, are unhappy with the current political situation created by president Maithripala Sirisena. Sources say that many SLFP members are likely to join the UNP in the coming weeks.

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Ranil Wickremesinghe sets deadline to end crisis 

Sri Lanka's ousted prime minister promised Monday to bring tens of thousands of supporters to the capital next week for a massive demonstration unless President Maithripala Sirisena reinstated him imminently.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose dismissal in October plunged Sri Lanka into crisis, said he still commanded the support of parliament and Sirisena had until Friday to recognise that.

Sri Lanka has been trapped in a bitter power feud since Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa, a controversial former strongman leader.

Parliament has twice voted against Rajapaksa but Sirisena has refused to reinstate his former ally Wickremesinghe -- even if he has the numbers on the floor.

The country's Supreme Court is ruling this week on whether Sirisena's sacking of parliament in November was unconstitutional.

Wickremesinghe -- who is confident of a ruling against Sirisena -- said tens of thousands of the party faithful would rally in Colombo if the president did not heed the court.

"After the court ruling, we will launch our "People Power' campaign to force the president to end the crisis," he said in a statement.

Wickremesinghe has cobbled together a majority in parliament, which has twice voted against Rajapaksa.

A court of appeal last week also stripped Rajapaksa and his cabinet of their authority until he could prove his right to hold office.

The war-era strongman, backed by the president, has ignored parliament, and has named a cabinet and assumed the duties of prime minister.

But the 225-member legislature has blocked his office from spending any funds, worsening the acrimony between the factions.

The chamber has witnessed violence in recent weeks as the power struggle dragged on, with brawls between warring sides.

Last week, Wickremesinghe likened Sirisena to Hitler, his strongest comment yet directed at his former ally.

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Immunity not to President's actions: K. Kanag-Iswaran PC

President’s Counsel K. Kanag Iswaran yesterday countering the arguments of the respondents and the intervernient petitioners underlined the fact that the immunity conferred on the Executive President was only on his person and not on his acts or actions.

Kanag Iswaran PC appearing for TNA Leader R. Sampanthan said this before the seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court which took up for hearing the fundamental rights petitions against the dissolution of Parliament by President.

Ten fundamental rights petitions against the dissolution of Parliament came up before the Bench comprising Chief Justice Nalin Perera, Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira J de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena, Prasanna S. Jayawardena, Vijith K. Malalgoda and Murdu Fernando.

Kanag Iswaran PC said he did not propose to deal with the jungle of arguments of single instances put forward by the various respondents, on account of time constraints.

He said President’s Counsel Sanjeewa Jayawardene and the other Counsel of a similar persuasion had sought to submit to Court their interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions on the basis of the Sinhala text of the Constitution.

Counsel said not being competent in that language, he had requested President’s Counsel Thilak Marapana and the other Counsel for the petitioners, to deal with that aspect. He informed Court that they assured him that the Sinhala version was in no way different to the English version and that he knew for a fact that the Tamil version was no different either.

He said therefore, he was responding to only the Attorney General in respect of his submissions, principally on the question of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear and determine his petition on the two grounds urged by the Attorney General, namely,
“The provisions of Article 38 (2) provide a specific mechanism ‘for the Supreme Court to exercise jurisdiction over allegations of, intentional violations of the Constitution, misconduct or abuse of power by the President;

“Dissolution of Parliament by the President, does not constitute ‘executive or administrative action’, falling within the purview of Article 126 of the Constitution.

He said the objection premised on Article 38 (2) was concerned and that it was clear that the said objection was based on the supposition that Article 38 (2) operates as an ouster of Articles 17 and 126 vis-à-vis the Fundamental Rights Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Counsel said one section of the Constitution could not oust another section of the Constitution.

The Constitutional jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to grant relief for the infringement of Fundamental Rights by the Executive or Administrative action could not be ousted in the absence of a Constitutionally or valid derogation from that jurisdiction he pinpointed.

He said Ex facie the Constitution such an ouster cannot be validly asserted.

He brought to cognizance that a total ouster is found in the interpretation section of the Constitution, namely, Article 154J (2) – Public Security.

He said the said interpretation section reads as, “A Proclamation under the Public Security Ordinance or the law for the time being relating to public security, shall be conclusive for all purposes and shall not be questioned in any Court, and no Court or Tribunal shall inquire into, or pronounce on, or in any manner call in question, such Proclamation, the grounds for the making thereof, or the existence of those grounds or any direction given under this Article.”

He submitted that the Article 170, defining a judicial officer as “ ‘judicial officer’ means any person who holds office as a Judge of the Supreme Court or a Judge of the Court of Appeal; any Judge of the High Court or any Judge, presiding officer or member of any other Court of First Instance, tribunal or institution created and established for the administration of Justice or for the adjudication of any labour or other dispute but does not include a person who performs arbitrary functions or a public officer whose principal duty or duties is or are not the performance of functions of a judicial nature. No court or tribunal or institution shall have jurisdiction to determine the question whether a person is a judicial officer within the meaning of the Constitution but such question shall be determined by the Judicial Service Commission whose decision thereon shall be final and conclusive. No act of such person or proceeding held before such person, prior to such determination, shall be, deemed to be invalid by reason of such determination.”

Kanag Iswaran PC said the above ouster clauses seek to even exclude the Fundamental Rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and maintained that therefore, Article 38 is no ouster at all.

He said the petitioner is well within his rights to have invoked Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution, because it is an acknowledged principle of law that there is no justification in law for holding that only one of the available remedies can be availed of and that the other consequently stands extinguished, nor can it be contended that the aggrieved party be confined to only one remedy.

He further said that passionate presentations were made on the question of the sovereignty of the People and the franchise of the People and the obligation of the President to heed that and for the Supreme Court to take note of that fact.

He mentioned that in passing that, the sovereignty of the People and who the depositories of that are is to be seen in Article 4 and that the Article 4 (a) provides that the sovereign legislative power of the People is in the Parliament and that the Article 4 (b) provides that the sovereign executive power of the People is in the President.

He maintained that therefore under the Constitution that the President cannot interfere with the legislature except as strictly provided by the Constitution.

The dissolution of the legislature must therefore strictly be in terms of the Constitution and the President is not a Monarch, he too is a creature of the Constitution. It is settled law that the official acts of the President constitute ‘executive’ actions, he said.

He submitted that the concept of ‘executive and administrative’ action is much wider than executive power.

He stated the Petitioners invoked a right given to them under Article 17 read with Article 126 read together with the proviso to Article 35 (1).
In terms of the proviso ‘anything done or omitted to be done by the President, in his official capacity’ are in fact ‘executive or administrative’ acts in terms of Article 17 and, therefore, the reference to Article 126 is made in the said proviso, he stressed.

The contention of the Attorney General that the President’s act is not ‘executive or administrative’ action is in terms of the Constitution wholly untenable, he contended.

The issue of dissolution which the Supreme Court is called upon to decide is not justiciable because it is a political question, he claimed.

He recollected that another interesting, if not intriguing, submission was about a ‘legislative driven process’ and a ‘executive driven process’.

This description, curiously, lays emphasis only on the driver and forgets the vehicle, which is Article 70 (1), he said.

Without the vehicle, the driver cannot move. Whether legislative driven or executive driven, you need to have a Proclamation, he stated.

The functionaries of the three wings, namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, derive their authority and jurisdiction from the Constitution. The Constitution is the fundamental document that provides for constitutionalism, constitutional governance and also sets out morality, norms and values which are inhered in various Articles and sometimes decipherable from the constitutional silence, he said.
Its inherent dynamism makes it organic and therefore the concept of constitutional sovereignty is sacrosanct. It is extremely sacred as the authorities get their powers from the Constitution and nowhere else. It is the source, that is the supremacy of the Constitution, he highlighted.

He reminded that passionate speeches had been made, mostly political, warning the Supreme Court of the impending dangers and the like if the dissolution is not upheld. It went as far as calling the challenge to the dissolution as terrorism, he said. He recall the words of Dr. Ambedkar: “I feel that the constitution is workable; it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.”

There were 10 fundamental rights petition filed against the declaration of dissolution of Parliament by the President. Five sought to intervene to counter the main petitions.

Petitions seek a declaration that proclamation of dissolving Parliament infringes the fundamental rights.

They ask the Court for a declaration that the decisions and/or directions in the proclamation is null and void ab initio (ineffective from the beginning) and of no force or effect in law.

The petitions were filed by Kabir Hashim and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam of UNP, Lal Wijenayeke of United Left Front, CPA, Member of the Election Commission Prof. Ratnajeevan. H. Hoole, Attorney-at-Law G.C.T. Perera, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, All Ceylon Makkal Congress, Mano Ganesan MP.

K.Kanag Iswaran PC, Thilak Marapana PC, Dr Jayampathi Wickremaratne PC, M.A.Sumanthiran PC. Viran Corea, Ikram Mohamed PC, J.C.Weliamuna PC, Ronald Perera PC, Hisbullah Hijaz and Suren Fernando appeared for the petitioners.

Gamini Marapane PC with Nalin Marapane, Sanjeeva Jayawardane PC and Ali Sabry PC appeared for the intervenient petitioners opposing the main petitions. (Daily Mirror)

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