“Gota’s win wholly speculative” - Ahimsa | Sunday Observer

“Gota’s win wholly speculative” - Ahimsa

8 September, 2019

Lawyers for Ahimsa Wickrematunge told the US District Court for the Central District of California last week that the man she accuses of authorising and instigating the murder of her father, has several hurdles left to cross before he could become President of Sri Lanka.

The daughter of slain Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was responding to a motion filed by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stay her civil lawsuit charging him with the alleged extra judicial killing of her father.

Last week, Rajapaksa, who hopes to be the SLPP presidential candidate, asked the California Court to stay Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s case until the presidential elections in Sri Lanka were concluded.

On August 26, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s US attorneys told the court that unless the motion was stayed, the court could find itself “a major factor in a foreign election, potentially even influencing its outcome”.

“In the intensity of an election campaign, every action by the court or parties in the case will be disseminated, amplified and potentially distorted in ways that are beyond this court’s control,” Rajapaksa’s attorneys said in the motion to stay.

Predicting that the presidential election in Sri Lanka would be held by December 7, 2019, the former Defence Secretary’s lawyers told the court that Rajapaksa was very likely to clinch victory in the poll.

“Mr Rajapaksa’s potential entitlement to head of state immunity and the risk that this case will affect a foreign election – dictate an immediate but brief stay of the case,” the motion filed by Rajapaksa’s US attorneys noted. “An electoral victory for Mr Rajapaksa will end this case”.

The US attorneys for the former Defence Secretary added that he was “fully committed to a national election campaign, on which he would spend virtually every waking hour until December 7, 2019. “It would be unfair to divert Mr Rajapaksa from the election campaign to participate in this case, particularly when he might receive absolute immunity from suit in just a few short months,’’ his lawyers argued. Litigating a case in the US court during the final period leading up to Sri Lanka’s presidential election would cause Gotabaya Rajapaksa to experience “undue hardship and inequity” the motion to suspend the civil lawsuit added.

Bizarrely, Rajapaksa’s motion to stay was supported by a declaration from journalist and former Editor Malinda Seneviratne. In his declaration supporting Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s motion, Seneviratne made several strange claims. Firstly, he claims that the SLFP and the UNP have not decided on a candidate to nominate for the 2019 presidential election. About the UNP, Seneviratne notes the following: “The UNP has been unable to decide whether to nominate Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or Sajith Premadasa, the deputy party leader … the Wickremesinghe and Premadasa camps are preparing for a protracted battle for the nomination, with no end in sight.”

The journalist then reaches the conclusion that: “In light of the SLFP and the UNP being unable to nominate a candidate, Mr Rajapaksa is the probable victor in the December 2019 presidential election”.

Yet Seneviratne, a seasoned journalist and former editor failed to mention in his declaration on behalf of the former Defence Secretary that a presidential election is yet to be declared in Sri Lanka or that it is traditional for parties to announce their candidates only after the poll is declared.

This is the first time that parties have pre-empted the declaration and performed anointing ceremonies for their candidates. Seneviratne’s claim that the UNP and the SLFP were “unable to nominate” a candidate for an election yet to be declared is a sweeping assumption that has little basis in reality. The UNP and the SLFP have nominated candidates in every presidential election in Sri Lanka so far. Furthermore, Rajapaksa is unlikely to take the presidency completely unchallenged.

In her reply to these claims filed in court, Ahimsa Wickrematunge, the 28 year old daughter of the slain journalist, said the former Defence Secretary’s proposal that he would soon enjoy immunity from prosecution was “wholly speculative” since it depended on whether he would in fact be elected president.

This itself was subject to many contingencies – including becoming an official nominee, overcoming potential challenges to his candidacy based on his US citizenship and other constitutional challenges as well as investigations of complaints lodged against him with the Elections Commission currently pending in Sri Lanka, actually winning the election, and only thereafter getting immunity from the US Government as a foreign head of state, Wickrematunge’s response to the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case said.

To reinforce the point, lawyers for Wickrematunge said that Rajapaksa was already facing criminal charges in Sri Lanka. “Sri Lanka has not stayed the proceedings against Mr. Rajapaksa simply because he has announced his candidacy in the presidential election,” the motion said.

Wickrematunge’s motion also recalled that, in an interview soon after the Easter bombings in April this year, the former defence secretary had claimed that case in California was only a “little distraction” in terms of his presidential candidacy. “As recently as September 1, Mr. Rajapaksa’s spokesperson again rejected any suggestion that this case could interfere with the campaign, insisting “it was never mentioned that this case was a disadvantage to the election campaign,” Wickrematunge’s motion noted, referring to a remark made by Dullas Alahapperuma in an interview with the Sunday Observer.

Wickrematunge’s filing also warned that the court granting a stay on proceedings would delay a ruling by the court on her request for an injunction to prevent the former defence secretary from interfering with any criminal investigation involving Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder.