The pound of flesh outcry over the Sunil Ratnayake pardon | Sunday Observer

The pound of flesh outcry over the Sunil Ratnayake pardon

It’s entirely predictable that Army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake’s pardon by the President in late March has provoked shrill protests in various quarters. The death sentence handed on the former soldier for what’s termed the Mirisuvil murders, was seen during the time of the former UNP administration as an act of post war score settling. Sri Lankan army soldiers were to be prosecuted in furtherance of post war ‘reconciliation’ through prosecution, demanded in various quarters, which are too well know to deserve special mention here.

The venom with which various people want Sunil Ratnayake in jail for life — they say the death sentence can be commuted — is a disgrace. Here is one man, just one man, who was convicted for an alleged crime committed in the fog of war. There have been literally thousands or at least certainly hundreds of LTTE cadres released despite similar alleged atrocities against civilians. But yet, they want to extract from this one man, Shylock style, a pound of flesh.

There are many ramifications to the issue and much of that can be dissected in the rest of this article. But as a preamble, this much has to be said.

One man cannot be held hostage to the desire of various elements for a symbolic sacrifice that appeases everyone who wants to avenge alleged ‘Sri Lankan military atrocities’ during the long years of hostilities.

There is no doubt about the symbolism. See all the petitions and the lengthy representations against the Presidential pardon. None of them fail to mention that with the Ratnayake sentencing, at least one soldier was convicted, adding in regret that in this rare case of conviction, the President has overruled the Court order.

Let’s consider the Court order later, but the important fact is that those protesting against the pardon are not interested in the conviction of Ratnayake per se, as much as they are interested in pursuing such a conviction as one that somehow validates their narrative of ‘human rights violations by the army.’

If Ratnayake, this one individual is sacrificed, they claim, it will satisfy them at least partially, because he symbolically represents a larger picture of ‘atrocities.’

But there have been no such atrocities. The Mannar mass graves tuned out to be a Portuguese era burial plot, (enough said). But to have this one man hanged and if that cannot be done, jailed for life, seems like a lifeline for that spurious narrative of wartime excesses.


But it’s typical. Atrocities didn’t happen, but if they could symbolically extract that pound of flesh from that one man, their lust for the narrative seems appeased.

It’s so typical, because as usual, the protestors don’t think of human beings. They don’t think of one man, period. This man fought for peace against a virulent terrorist group. He has an impeccable record of combat in which he valiantly bore arms for the cause of ushering in peace, that we as Sri Lankans yearned for during a dark period of terror and mindless bloodletting.

The circumstances of his conviction and the Supreme Court judgement on that conviction to say the very least, leaves much to be desired. The Presidential pardon hence is not just desirable, but is a necessity — in fact, a crying need.

But yet, they want to send this one man to jail for life. It’s typical because none of these elements have any sanctity for life, they are perennially in the cause of advancing their own projects. Lives, men, justice don’t come into the equation. Whether one man should be sent to jail for no just cause is something that doesn’t occur to them, when they don’t care about real people. They have a narrative they must vindicate, and that’s their project.

Sunil Ratnayake must be pardoned. The people voted for it, as the pardon was an election promise. Such a pardon is done in my name, and in the name of all others who walk free of terror today, due to the valiant services of this gallant soldier and his like.

Incidentally, some chatter-class protestor types who are too craven so much as to have their names mentioned here, have released tracts to the press saying that for his services to the country, it’s fitting that Ratnayake’s sentence be commuted from death by hanging, to life.

It beggars belief. Is there any more need to ascertain how craven these people are, when they think nothing of a life sentence and consider it a great favour when a warrior who was sentenced to death is put behind bars for the rest of his life? The soulless nonchalance of such people is too bizarre even to contemplate.

Now, onto the legalities and the other ramifications of the Sunil Ratnayake case. The prosecution papers were filed in 2002 or thereabouts, but it is pertinent that the case meandered through the legal system until a conviction was secured in 2015.

That was a very significant year. A new government had been voted into office, and owed its power to Tamil votes and other minority votes for the most part. It is a well known fact that a comprehensive investigation of the entire prosecutorial process has to be launched to get to the bottom of a scheme of ‘bend the law’ (an IGP appointed in the era actually said that) and subvert justice, in a project that was carried out in the duration of that administration.

This is not news, the witch hunts were a daily exercise, bordering on a cross between the hilarious and the wretched. These are established facts. One MP was caught on tape famously begging police officers and judges to frame political opponents. In one tape, the MP bizarrely told a police officer that they must coax some foreigner to claim falsely that Udaya Gammanpila, then an opposition MP, threatened him. Nothing was left to chance in this business of name and frame. Action is now being taken against the judges who were involved.

It’s in this atmosphere in 2015 that Ratnayake was convicted. It’s not to say for a moment that the judiciary or the judicial bench in that specific instance was compromised. There is certainly no evidence of that. But, entire prosecutions in that era were under a cloud, due to the aforesaid reasons. Again, there is not enough evidence at least that this writer possesses, to establish that the prosecution against Ratnayake was compromised or crooked.

But the point is, in an era in which prosecutions were under a cloud, this type of 2015 prosecution after a government determined to appease its Tamil voter base is returned to power, also comes under rubric of prosecutions that should be further scrutinized.

A lot of people, for good reason, do not trust the prosecutions of that era, especially when it comes to political and politically related hot-button issues such as the Ratnayake prosecution, period.

This is why a Presidential pardon is not at all remiss in this case; a pardon was more or less imperative under the circumstances.


It’s argued that even so the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court judgment. The Supreme Court did so on the basis of the prosecution’s case. At least technically, there is not much the Supreme Court could do under the circumstances, if the prosecution’s case is perchance skewed against the accused.

Then, there are the facts of the case, which some other writers have already alluded to elsewhere. But to recap briefly, there is no evidence whatsoever in the case record that Ratnayake personally slit the throats of the alleged victims.

In fact, the Supreme Court judgment notes:

‘The entire prosecution case hinges on Maheshwaran’s testimony.

This is a case where the court has to decide, mainly on circumstantial evidence.’

Maheshwaran was the main witness, and he is supposed to have escaped the attack, that he says, was perpetrated by Ratnayake and four other men. But even he does not state anywhere in evidence that he saw Ratnayake himself slit the throats of the victims. Terrorists in civilian guise were in the habit of infiltrating the Mirisuvil area, with LTTE child soldiers in tow. The Supreme Court goes onto note that the crime could not have been committed by one person! This does not prevent the shrill airheads in the NGO sector from saying that Sunil slit the throat of a five year old.

The fog of war element is not to be underestimated. Terrorists in civilian guise were in the habit of infiltrating the Mirisuvil area, with LTTE child soldiers in tow. The military police was under tremendous pressure from various supportive militias to implicate somebody in the army to keep civilian sprits up. The Supreme Court in judgment states the entire case hinges on one man’s testimony and circumstantial evidence, and yet proceeds to affirm the conviction. With all of the fog of war issues that this entails, such a conviction is not tenable, and a pardon is a must.

Besides, civil society which scarcely uttered a peep when a criminal Jude Shramantha Jayamaha was pardoned having been sentenced for murder in a crime of passion, says now that the pardon of a war hero in a flawed conviction was unforgivable. Simply stated, the less said about such civil society compassion, the better it is.