ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeking a presidential pardon for former Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Ranjan Ramanayake who is serving a four-year prison sentence.
In a letter dated August 31, the opposition leader said Ramanayaka, who has been in prison for 233 days, is known as an honest person with integrity who stands for the truth.
The former MP has no record of any impropriety or corruption, said Premadasa.
The opposition and SJB leader had previously called for a pardon for the outspoken MP on April 20.
Thanking the president for his favourable response to his briefings to the president about Ramanayake’s release, Premadasa said he continues to receive requests from various parties to seek the actor-turned politician’s release.
“I think that you believe – as I do – that these requests are valid and fair. I expect your considered response regarding a presidential pardon for Ranjan Ramanayake,” he wrote.
In June this year, President Rajapaksa controversially pardoned murder-convict and former MP Duminda Silva, drawing criticism from the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and others.
SJB national organiser Tissa Attanayake told reporters on June 21 that there are reasonable grounds for a presidential pardon for Ramanayake as he was imprisoned on charges of contempt of court rather than fraud or corruption.
The SJB had s prepared legal documents required to secure a presidential pardon for the ex-MP, Attanayake said at the time, adding that Ramanayake had signed the documents seeking a pardon in May. However, the party had been unable to present the papers to the presidential secretariat owing to the COVID-19 situation in the country at the time.
The Supreme Court sentenced Ramanayake to four years’ rigorous imprisonment on January 12, 2021, over contempt of court charges, in connection with disparaging remarks he had allegedly made about the judiciary in August 2017.
Imprisonment over contempt of court charges is legal but is increasingly seen as inappropriate and disproportionate, according to Director, Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, Dr Asanga Welikala.
According to Welikala, the power to punish for contempt of court lies completely at the discretion of the court. Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, he said, where English law principles are used like in Sri Lanka, many countries have introduced legislation to regulate contempt of court powers.
“Such Acts balance the need to ensure respect for the judiciary with the freedom of expression, and impose limits on punishments. Generally imprisonment, rigorous or otherwise, is now regarded as an inappropriate and disproportionate form of punishment for contempt offences. A public apology should suffice,” he told EconomyNext on January 12.
As per Article 34 of the constitution, the president is vested with the power to grant a special presidential pardon to an individual convicted by the court. (Colombo/Sep01/2021)