As Shramantha Jude Jayamaha walked out of prison a free man, the denouncements were swift and vociferous. Various activists, lawyers, parliamentarians and at least one presidential candidate condemned President Maithripala Sirisena’s confounding decision to pardon the now-34-year-old man sentenced to death for a horrific crime he committed 14 years ago.
Perhaps it was the relentless outpouring of anger and frustration that prompted the President to issue a clarification. Perhaps he did not wish to leave the presidency, with just days left for the election of a successor, accused of a grievous injustice. Either way, the explanation raised more questions than answers.
According to a statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD) this afternoon, the call for a presidential pardon for Jayamaha had come from Athuraliye Rathana Thero, with the backing of several religious leaders including a Catholic Bishop. Former Supreme Court judge Rohini Marasinghe were among others who had appealed to Sirisena on Jayamaha’s behalf, according to the statement.
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).
Taking all these factors into account, in addition to his potential for contributing to the country as a “good, educated young man” with a PhD, the President had decided to pardon Jayamaha, the PMD concluded, noting that such pardons on humanitarian grounds were not unprecedented internationally.
The ruling United National Front (UNF), who had remained uncharacteristically silent on the matter since it first came to light in October, finally made some, if rather feeble, noise in protest today.
Condemning the move, UNF Parlliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra said today that there is no need for a judiciary system if the President is able to pardon a convicted murderer at will.
Jayamaha was sentenced for manslaughter, not murder – an important distinction, and the President, too, has on at least two occasions described the incident as a crime of passion that was not premeditated. Premachandra, however, contested this.
She told reporters today that the accused had, in fact, waited for hours for the victim to arrive and then bashed her head in, fracturing her skull in 64 places.
Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Anura Kumara Dissannayake issuing a statement on the pardon called it unfair and unjust. Reversing the logical conclusion of a judiciary process with a single stroke of the President’s pen, he said, threatens to undermine the supremacy of the law, the independence of the judiciary and the respect the public has for the rule of law.
Dissanayake urged President Sirisena to reconsider his position and also requested the Attorney General’s Department and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to intervene.
“This is not the first time a person accused of murder was given a presidential pardon. Former President J. R. Jayawardene pardoned Gonawala Sunil, who was convicted of murder and rape. President Mahinda Rajapaksa pardoned Monika Fernando, the wife of a former minister, who had been imprisoned for murder. This is familiar terrain for the country’s leadership who has historically displayed scant regard for the law and social justice,” he said.