Toy pistol saga ends with imprisonment | Sunday Observer

Toy pistol saga ends with imprisonment

Milinda Moragoda

Justice prevailed concluding two years of prosecution in the ‘toy pistol’ saga where the former Hambantota mayor Eraj Ravindra Fernando and Premasiri Paranamanna were sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment by the Hambantota High Court last Friday (2).

The matter was a result of a clash between a group of opposition parliamentarians, who visited the Hambantota airport and the Magamana port, that were attacked by the said mayor back in April 2014.

The team of parliamentarians then included Ajith P Perera, Eran Wickremaratne, Ajith Mannapperuma, Nalin Bandara and R Yogarajan, four out of the above list are currently serving as ministers. For the first time in history, ministers went before a high court to give evidence against the suspects.

In the midst of continuous disturbance to the team, the former mayor was seen running behind the bus carrying the parliamentarian with a pistol drawn on his hand. He then later claimed that it was a toy pistol that someone in the crowd had.

He also took the stance that he was there with the pistol trying to prevent any harm befalling the group of parliamentarians.

Although there had been initial attempts to stifle the case, it was due to the sheer dedication of the representatives of the prosecutors that the case came to its finality.

Speaking to Sunday Observer State Minister of Finance said that the attempts of the prosecutors should be lauded and went on to say that this is where ‘yahapalanaya’ was clearly demonstrated.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peeris appeared with State Counsels Chavith Thalagala and Gayan Perera.

Prior to delivering the judgment, mitigation factors were provided on behalf of the accused where it was said that Eraj Fernando, the fifth accused, was suffering from several ailments.

Delivering a powerful submission Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peeris said that powerful politicians, as seen in recent history, tend to complain of similar ailments closer to such convictions.

Indictments were served on five suspects based on section 346 of the Penal Code, on 29 counts. Accused were convicted under 27 counts.

Section 346 states that whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person intending thereby to dishonor that person otherwise than on grave and sudden provocation given by that person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both.

In his submission DSG Peiris said that this is not a usual case but where elected representatives of the people while being members of the parliament were disturbed in carrying out their functions.

The fifth accused during the time of the incident was the Mayor of Hambantota. “A ruler or a leader of any constituency does not mean that they get the ownership of it forever, they are only appointed for a selected tenure. And they are accountable for how they conduct themselves and for their actions while in office,” Peiris said in his submissions.

One incident took place at the Hambantota Magampura port, the other was at the Hambantota airport grounds, where the parliamentarians and journalists who went on the monitoring tour came under attack.

This incident took place on 17 April 2014. The group arrived at the said premises after obtaining due permission from relevant authorities and ministries. They had also taken steps to inform the Hambantota police about their visit and seek protection from them during the visit.

The video evidence shown in court clearly demonstrated that even the senior police officials did not intervene in preventing these accused from showing the power that the accused had over the police that is maintained by public funds. This was highlighted in the strong submission of the DSG.

He further submitted that the authority of the fifth accused shows the amount of power he yields when no one including higher police officials refrains from interfering with him. The two places that were visited by this group of parliamentarians are not private properties but public ones built and maintained using public funds. And most importantly they are high-security zones.

The video evidence also demonstrated large crowds entering these high-security zones. These are normal people. Clearly, they are entering these areas on the authority of the fifth accused.

Minister Ajith P Perera said during his evidence that the people gathered started hooting at the command of the fifth accused and ceased to do so again at the command of the fifth accused, which clearly demonstrates that he was in charge of the whole spectacle. Peiris further said in his submissions that if it were not for the journalists with their cameras present at the incident, the damage would have been higher. Minister Eran Wickremarathne giving his evidence thanked the journalist who, according to him, saved their lives.

When nearing the Port, the team had been warned by the then SSP of the area, who was on duty, of a calculated threat. Therefore it is clear that it is because of the fifth accused and other influential persons behind this incident that not even the police dared to exercise the law of the country.

The team was attacked with eggs, tomatoes and pelted stones at. There were about 20, 25 police officers are seen around including high ranking officials but they fail to take any action to prevent the incident. Just because he’s the mayor that does not give him the right to enter any place according to his whims and fancies. No one is above the law.

When the driver tried to leave the premises, the gates were closed, preventing the bus from leaving. It is then that the Mayor was sighted running towards the bus with a pistol in his hand along with another supporter draped in a sarong. The threat was so serious that the parliamentarians were not able to even lodge a complaint before the Hambantota police but had to do so at the police headquarters at about 10 that night after arriving in Colombo.

As much as it was encouraging to see justice done, it is unfortunate to think that the former mayor is eligible for a presidential pardon in time to come.

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