Shakthika to be indicted? | Sunday Observer

Shakthika to be indicted?

21 July, 2019

The Attorney General is likely to file an indictment against short-story writer Shakthika Sathkumara under the ICCPR Act in the Kurunegala High Court, Sunday Observer learns, but senior lawyers are raising serious concerns about the State’s handling of the case.

The indictment could be filed as early as next week, authoritative sources told Sunday Observer yesterday.

Sathkumara was arrested on 1 April, over three short stories he published on his Facebook wall, all pieces of fiction about paedophilia and sexual abuse in temples. He was charged under Section 291B of the Penal Code and Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, Section 3, No. 56, which states: “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

If convicted, Sathkumara could be facing up to 10 years of imprisonment.

Sunday Observer learns that a private complaint about the AG’s Department handling of Sathkumara’s case had been forwarded to Attorney General Dappula De Livera recently. In the complaint, Counsel for Sathkumara urged the Attorney General to conduct an inquiry into how the Department had handled the file in the author.

“The Attorney General’s Department has traditionally been very sensitive to cases filed under the ICCPR Act,” a senior lawyer who did not wish to be named told Sunday Observer. “That has always been the practice, because the only real safeguard and guide in these types of cases is the AG, since courts can only intervene at a much later stage.”

Last month, the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed in Sathkumara’s fundamental rights petition challenging his arrest under the ICCPR Act for his crime of writing fiction.

Upon granting leave, the bench led by Justice Prasanna Jayawardane told Senior State Counsel Ganga Wakishtaarchchi to convey to the Attorney General that in such cases, the State “must be more tolerant”.

However, when Sathkumara’s bail hearing came up in the Kurunegala High Court soon after, the AG strongly objected to bail being granted. Furthermore the AG’s Department is also requesting more time to file objections, delaying the case and keeping Sathkumara in remand custody.

When the matter came up at the Polgahawela Magistrate’s Court on July 9, police informed Court that they were yet to receive instructions from the AG about whether to file charges, since investigations into the case were concluded. The initial report by a junior prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Department about the Sathkumara case, recommending prosecution, was initially rejected by a supervisor at the Department, who in turn recommended discharging the author, Sunday Observer learns. However after further deliberations at senior levels of the Department, the decision was likely made to prosecute the writer, highly placed sources told Sunday Observer. The writer’s arrest has drawn criticism by rights groups locally and internationally.