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Sunday July 25th, 2021

Detention of MPs infringes upon entire parliament’s privileges: former Sri Lanka PM

ECONOMYNEXT – The detention of MP Rishad Bathuideen and alleged attempts to arrest MP Harin Fernando infringe upon the privileges of the entire parliament, former Sri Lanka prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

Wickremesinghe told parliament Monday (19) morning that while MPs aren’t exempt from arrest, the House must be informed of the cause of a member’s detention.

The ongoing detention of Bathiudeen, who was arrested recently over alleged links to the 2019 Easter bombings, had been done without providing a cause for the arrest to the parliament, the UNP leader said.

Meanwhile police moves to question main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Harin Fernando over a statement he had made regarding the Easter bombings were an attempt to intimidate the outspoken MP, said Wickremesinghe.

Fernando, who has been criticised for not sharing information his late father is said to have given him about an imminent attack on churches on April 21 2019, made a startling revelation in parliament in April this year. The MP claimed that investigations by former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Director Shani Abeysekara had revealed that an intelligence officer who had been arrested in connection with the bombings had had discussions with the perpetrators of the attack.

Related: Sri Lanka opposition MP alleges damning omission in Easter bombings probe

However, the statement attributed to his father had landed Fernando in hot water.

“He rang me on the day of the explosion and told me that his sister has told him that morning that the previous night his father had said not to go to church (on April 21) and to be careful [because there may be] trouble,” Wickremesinghe told parliament.

“Let’s presume that Fernando’s father did give the information. If the police didn’t act on the information given by the Indian intelligence services, do you think they are going to act on what Harin Fernando’s father had said?” he said.

The then government in which Wickremesinghe was prime minister was widely criticised for failing to prevent the attack, despite having received prior intelligence. The UNP-led government blamed then President Maithripala Sirisena for not inviting Wickremesinghe to national security council meetings which the party said led to the negligence.

Wickremesinghe said in his speech today (19) that all information regarding the Easter Sunday attack had been provided by the Indian Intelligence to the Sri Lankan authorities on the morning of the attack.

“So if you now come to question him on a matter which is not relevant and which has been dealt by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, there is only one conclusion: they want to intimidate him,” he said.

Referring to Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice, British constitutional theorist Thomas Erskine May’s seminal work on parliamentary procedure, Wickremesinghe said: “Erskine May has said attempts to influence members in their conduct by threat is a breach of parliamentary privilege. So this is intimidation of a member which violates the privilege of the house.”

The UNP national list MP further said that it also betrays a failure to provide correct information to the Speaker,

“They said [they wanted] to question these issues but the fact is that has already been done and finished. The inquiry was on why the police didn’t act on the information. So they gave the Speaker and the House false information,” said Wickremesinghe.

Responding to the former Prime Minister, Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara said that there is no plan to arrest MP Harin Fernando.

“[Fernando has] said he knows the who the mastermind was. So if he knows the mastermind, he has a responsibility to tell that to the CID in the interest of national security,” said Weerasekara.

On July 14, the Attorney General informed the Supreme Court that MP Fernando will not be arrested until September 01, 2021.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris informed the court on this matter when a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition Fernando was heard on last Wednesday (July 14). The petition sought an injunction restraining his arrest claiming that the CID was preparing to arrest him in connection with the terror attack. (Colombo/July19/2021)


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