Courtroom drama as Duminda Silva faces death row | Sunday Observer

Courtroom drama as Duminda Silva faces death row

14 October, 2018
Duminda Silva arriving at the Supreme Court last Thursday PIC: LAKMAL SOORIYAGODA
Duminda Silva arriving at the Supreme Court last Thursday PIC: LAKMAL SOORIYAGODA

With the unanimous judgment delivered by the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court last Thursday affirming the High Court Trial-at-Bar verdict in the murder of SLFP strongman Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, ex-Monitoring MP to the Ministry of Defence Duminda Silva moves to death row in Welikada Prison

“Throughout the four hours that Duminda Silva had sat near the polling booths two of his security detail were standing next to him in civil clothes bearing two T-56 weapons - a sight sufficient to intimidate voters. He was also heard telling voters not to vote for the UNP but for the then government, according to evidence led in court. Several attempts to remove Duminda Silva and his aides from the site, by police officers on election duty, failed. Finally he was informed that his conduct will result in the polling booth being cancelled. Duminda Silva and his aides had then proceeded elsewhere leaving Tamilnadu Watta area, where he had consumed alcohol. At about 2.45 pm the motorcade had proceeded towards Rahula College. They continued to intimidate voters at Rahula College where Silva had assaulted a female in the polling booth while his aides assaulted several other males as well as females in the polling booth. STF (Special Task Force) officials deployed at the polling booth had made an effort to disperse them, but to no avail. At this point, the accused had proceeded to threaten one of the STF officers by holding a weapon to his chest.”

The above is a description by Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Thusith Mudalige during the appeal hearings, on the activities of the 11th accused, in the Baratha Lakshman Premachandra murder case, regarding his conduct and that of others. Duminda Silva (11th accused), was the former monitoring MP of the Defence Ministry during the Rajapaksa government.

Last week, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting of the former Chief Justice Priyasath Dep and Justices Nalin Perera, Buwaneka Aluwihare, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith Malalgoda, delivering the judgment of the appeal made by Duminda Silva and others, dismissed the application by the 11th accused appellant R Duminda Silva, 3rd accused appellant Dematagoda Chaminda, 7th accused appellant Sarath Bandara and 10th accused appellant who passed away after the incident, putting to rest many canards pre-empting the decision by the country’s apex court, which ultimately, unanimously affirmed the verdict of the High Court Trial at Bar.

The first accused, Police Constable Anura Thushara de Mel was acquitted of all charges while Silva and the other accused were acquitted from some of the charges relating to the possession of firearms.

The incident took place back in 2011 during Local government elections. During a confrontation between the two rival factions of the then ruling UPFA, four persons including Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, (SLFP stalwart and trade union leader), were killed.

In September 2016, delivering the judgment of the High Court Trial at bar, High Court judge Padmini N Ranawaka in a majority judgment which was agreed by High Court Judge M C B S Moraes, and six accused were acquitted on all counts, while Silva and four others were convicted on charges including use of firearms, unlawful assembly, intimidation, threatening a police constable using a firearm, possession of firearms, murder and attempted murder.

High Court judge A.L. Shiran Gunaratne, Chairman of the Trial at Bar, delivered a separate judgment and acquitted all the accused of all charges.

For weeks, speculation had been rife that Duminda Silva, a former powerful acolyte of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, would walk out a free man. Last Thursday, the nation waited with bated breath for the verdict on Silva’s much publicized appeal. The former MP’s supporters congregated at the country’s apex court premises in Hulftsdorp. Silva himself who arrived in court in the prison ambulance, was escorted to court No 502 and was joined by other accused who were brought there in the prison bus. All the accused were light-hearted and smiling in court, perhaps confident, in the light of all the speculation, that the verdict would go in their favour.

But it was not to be.

At about 2.45 pm, the former Chief Justice delivered his final determination which jolted everyone in the courtroom. Even the renowned counsels seemed to be trying to comprehend what had happened, long after the judgment had been delivered.

A junior counsel who appeared for one of the accused told the Sunday Observer: “We gave it everything we had. There is nothing we could have done differently, even if there was another chance.”

When realisation dawned, the sobs of Dematagoda Chaminda’s wife reverberated through the silent courtroom. Futilely, Chaminda attempted to soothe her, promising he would come home. The jail guards showed immense compassion, allowing the four accused, who would now be transferred officially as death row prisoners, a little more time to spend with their families. The former MP’s face looked weighed down with concern, but he muttered “kamak nehe ithin” (it doesn’t matter, after all) as soon as the verdict became clear.

He was surrounded by his mother, sisters and youngest brother, all dumbstruck, only exchanging glances. All the while, Chaminda’s wife’s sobbing continued in the background. Duminda Silva’s father, who seemed to be struggling to understand what had happened, walked from lawyer to lawyer asking questions, and finally said: “This is how politics works.”

Mother of hardened underworld figure Dematagoda Chaminda, who will now serve out his death sentence, had final words for her son inside the courtroom that day: “What has befallen you is not due to your own wrongs but for what you did on behalf of others.” while his daughter, no more than 10 years old, clung to him.

Because Silva was tried and convicted by a High Court (HC) Trial at Bar, he was entitled only to a single appeal, by a special divisional bench of the Supreme Court. Only a five judge bench of the Supreme Court can overturn decisions made by a HC Trial-at-Bar.

The final verdict of the Supreme Court came almost exactly seven years to the day that Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and three others were cruelly gunned down in an intra-party election turf war in 2011.

In a final twist, Parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra, daughter of Bharatha Lakshman showed compassion towards the accused after the judgement was delivered.

“As a Buddhist, I can’t be happy that such circumstances have befallen them,” she said in a press conference.

The verdict had investigators and prosecutors, (who had put in a great deal of intense investigative work and evidence gathering, on the high profile case), breathing a sigh of relief. DSG Mudalige’s submissions to court during Silva’s appeal revealed the impunity and arrogance with which Silva and his cohorts behaved when they held power, showing disdain towards others and even the law of the land.

Last week’s verdict stood testimony to the long arm of the Law and justice.