ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40

The story of flawed justice and official apathy

By Nalaka Nonis

Fifteen days after the execution of four Sri Lankans in Saudi, the Sri Lankan Government has not still been able to get a reply from the Saudi authorities regarding the concerns it expressed on the issue, including the shocking beheading of 26-year-old Sangeeth Kumara who had only been sentenced to a jail term of 15 years imprisonment.

Both the Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Employment Bureau stated that they had still not been able to ascertain the reason why Sangeeth Kumara had been executed together with the other three Sri Lankans.

The four Sri Lankans namely Ranjith Silva, Victor Corea, Sanath Pushpakumara and Sangeeth Kumara were beheaded on February 19th at the Al-Ha’ir prison in Saudi after being convicted of robbery.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that the Sri Lankan Government was awaiting a reply from the Saudi Arabian authorities in reply to the concerns expressed with regard to the executions.

“The Saudi authorities are yet to reply to our concerns on the four executions and we are still awaiting their reply”, Minister said.

The family of Sangeeth Kumara living in Neboda Kalutara accused the government of showing little interest in mediating on behalf of the victims including the three others.

The family complained that they made several appeals to the government and paid dozens of visits to the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) asking them to actively intervene for their son’s release, but nothing useful resulted, other than a few written requests made by the government to Saudi authorities.

“I wrote appeals to everyone concerned including former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as to the Ministers who were in charge of the Foreign Ministry. Ultimately nothing worked and now I have lost my son”, Ranjani Ranawaka victim’s mother lamented.

She said she could not believe how her son who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment was executed.

“I don’t know what type of justice has been meted out on my son. We never dreamt this could happen. This is really flawed justice when a person who was given a term of imprisonment is beheaded”, Ranjani said.

She stated that whenever her son called home he had said that he was hopeful that he could come home much before he completed his term of imprisonment.

The wailing mother said her son was completely unaware that he was to be executed on February 19th and in fact just few hours before the execution, he had called a friend in his village in Neboda to know how he was doing.

“Through calls from his friends in the Saudi prison I came to that my son had been having tea when he had been taken for beheading. His friends had believed that he would turn up for lunch as sometimes jailors had taken him out on earlier occasions too and sent him back. On that fateful day however he had not returned”, she said.

Unaware of her son’s burial in Riyadh after the execution, his mother said that her only wish was now to see her son’s remains being brought here. No financial compensation could give her consolation she said.

Ranjani Ranawaka claimed it could have been the recent visit paid to Al-Ha’ir prison by a well-known human rights organisation that spurred the authorities to turn her son’s imprisonment to an execution. She added that according to some reports the particular visit had angered the prison authorities.

FEB Chairman Mr. Jagath Wellawatte said that it is not clear for him why the person who had been sentenced for 15 years imprisonment was beheaded.

He pointed out that the families of the four persons who were executed should not expect the bodies of the executed men to be returned as they had already been buried in Saudi. He added that no compensation could be paid to families of the executed as they had been involved in unlawful activities in Saudi.

When contacted by ‘The Sunday Times’, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Colombo stated that the Ambassador has gone back to his country for a holiday and his Charge d’ Affairs could not comment as he was new to the post.

The Embassy further said that any questions with regard to this issue would have to be referred by way of a formal letter and a reply to it would be possible only after the return of the Ambassador.

An individual from Moratuwa who had returned to Sri Lanka on February 11th after serving a a term of imprisonment of 11 months in Saudi told The Sunday Times that he was there in the same prison with the four executed Sri Lankans and that they were not aware of their imminent deaths. They were leading a normal lives up to this time he said.

He said that he had been in touch with Sangeeth Kumara while he was in prison and the latter was even earning some money by doing odd jobs in the prison. He had been hopeful he could return before his jail term expired.He added that the execution of Sangeeth had created anxiety among the other Sri Lankan prisoners. He claimed at least another 60 were being held at this prison.

He said some of his friends serving jail sentences had called they were scared a similar fate awaited them. Human rights groups slammed the Saudi Arabian Government over its decision to execute the four Sri Lankans without prior notification. They charged the judicial procedures in Saudi were not transparent.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.