The controversial presidential pardon granted to Royal Park murder convict Shramantha Jude Jayamaha was the culmination of a process that began three years, according to an open letter attributed to Jayamaha. The letter, now being circulated online, also claims his purported reform began five years ago when he first encountered parliamentarian Athuraliye Rathana Thero.
“I met Ve. Rathana Thero for the first time – when I was at a particularly low point in my life – around five years ago. He was meeting prisoners to give us meditation advice, and in a very long time, someone looked at me with kindness. It was he who gave me the desire to believe in life again and even motivated me to pick up my studies again,” writes Jayamaha.
According to a statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD) on Monday (11), the call for a presidential pardon for Jayamaha had come from Rathana Thero himself, with the backing of several religious leaders including a Catholic Bishop.
Rathana Thero, the PMD communique said, had facilitated a meeting between Sirisena and Jayamaha’s family and made a case for the prisoner’s release. Various parties, with Rathana Thero at the forefront, had made representations to the President, showing cause for a presidential pardon citing good behaviour, the convict’s youth (he had been 19 at the time) and exceptional academic performance behind bars).
Today’s letter, purportedly penned by Jayamaha himself, details how his pardon was not an arbitrary decision by President Maithripala Sirisena but was the final step in a continual sequence of reviews and approvals that began in 2016.
After detailed interviews, writes Jayamaha, 250 prisoners out of 600 were commuted to life imprisonment with reports specifying that “we are fit to be reintroduced to society”.
From 2018 to 2019, the President’s legal review board had reviewed reports purportedly submitted by unnamed judges, Prisons Department officials and the Attorney General’s Department with recommendations from the Ministry of Justice toward his release.
Based on those recommendations, “constitutional procedures” and the opinion of the legal review board, writes Jayamaha, his review was approved.
“There are some who still think I should be inside prison and I can’t change that. But if you don’t believe anything else, at least believe that the pardon that was given to me was not a result of any coercion or influence, but purely through process, and as I pointed out earlier, I am one of several hundreds of people who are fortunate enough to be afforded a second chance at life through the merit-based pardoning system,” he says.
Much of the letter, composed in a pensive, remorseful tone, is seeking understanding and forgiveness for his alleged crime, and Jayamaha details the circumstances under which he obtained his education behind bars.
“I am the product of a broken home as my parents are divorced. I grew up lonely, hurting, insecure and never understood what it’s like to belong to a close-knit family. By the time I was 16, I had grown into a disgruntled youth with little control over how I behaved in society,” writes Jayamaha.
“Today, I stand as a 34-year-old who has spent the best years of my youth in prison, enclosed in a 6x8ft room with access to only 30 minutes of sunlight every day. It was the darkest period of my life, locked up for over 12 hours of each day, with a bucket as a latrine, which also served as my chair. I slept on the floor and the pillow I lay my head on was also my desk. If there was hell on earth, I experienced it in the past 14+ years. I’m out now, but in a world that I hardly know or recognise. And all I see is your anger and hate directed at me – not that I don’t deserve it, but please understand that I am not the same 19-year-old who was imprisoned.”
Jayamaha closes his letter appealing to the sense of forgiveness of Sri Lankans: “I ask for your understanding, because that is the kind of country we live in – where there is hope for even the worst criminal and mercy and forgiveness is a way of life. Please give me another chance.”