Anger as death-row prisoner sworn in as Sri Lankan MP

Sri Lanka's convicted murderer Premalal Jayasekara sits after swearing-in as a member of parliament from the ruling party in Colombo. (AFP)
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Updated 09 September 2020

Anger as death-row prisoner sworn in as Sri Lankan MP

  • Opposition parliament members say appointment of convicted murderer puts ‘permanent scar’ on nation’s history

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan politician on death row for murder was on Tuesday sworn in as a legislator in the country’s parliament amid angry scenes.

Premalal Jayasekara became the first convict to take oath as a legislator in the country after being escorted from prison for the swearing-in ceremony.

“This disparaging act has not only drawn global attention, but has also created a permanent scar in the annals of history with the entry of a death-row prisoner to the legislature,” said Imran Mahroof, an opposition member of parliament from the eastern part of the island nation.

“In Sri Lanka, the man who kills a cow goes to jail, while the man who kills another man goes to parliament,” he told Arab News.

Several opposition members wore black shawls as a mark of protest, while others staged a walkout when he was being administered the oath of office.

Jayasekara was convicted in late July of murdering an opposition activist after opening fire during an election rally in 2015.

However, his death sentence was issued days after he had filed nomination papers for re-election in the Aug. 5 polls.

He was allowed to contest on behalf of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party and secured the second position in the Ratnapura District preferential votes list.

After failing to attend the first session of parliament on Aug. 20 – due to a lack of approval from prison authorities – Jayasekara had filed a petition seeking a review to allow him to be escorted to the legislature by the commissioner general of prisons (CGP) for a day before being returned to jail.

As prison rules and regulations do not have provisions for an inmate on death row being appointed to public office, the CGP inquired on the matter with the Ministry of Justice, which in turn referred it to the country’s attorney general for a case study.

Subsequently, the attorney general informed the ministry that Jayasekara was not eligible to act as an MP under articles of the constitution.

The writ application was then filed before the Court of Appeal requesting permission for Jayasekara to attend parliamentary sessions, and the court allowed him to participate in the sessions of the House.

Human rights activist, Shreen Saroor, told Arab News: “People of this country voted in a convicted murderer. It shows who our citizens think is appropriate for politics. It also shows how corrupt and unruly our political system is and what qualifies to be a politician. No wonder we women and good men cannot get into this rotten political space.”

International political lobbyist, Muheed Jeeran, said: “Lawmakers are supposed to safeguard the public from lawbreakers but here a lawbreaker had become a lawmaker.

“The Sri Lankan system has failed to prevent a murder convict from becoming the MP of the parliament.

“The blame is not with the murder convict; rather it is the so-called intellectuals who specialize in law and failed to articulate the constitution to prevent such a pathetic decision that put down Sri Lanka’s image badly in the eyes of the international community,” Jeeran added.

Speaking to the press after the swearing-in ceremony, Jayasekara maintained his innocence and said that he was “still imprisoned over a crime he did not commit.” He claimed that he had been “framed” before adding that there were around 29,000 people “who are in prisons without having committed any wrong.”

Philippine president to make UN General Assembly debut

Updated 19 min 30 sec ago

Philippine president to make UN General Assembly debut

  • Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26

MANILA: For the first time since he became president four years ago, the Philippines’ tough-talking leader Rodrigo Duterte will take part in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday.

The meeting will be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This will be the president’s first time to address the UN General Assembly,” Robert Borje, chief of presidential protocol, told a press briefing on Monday, saying that this year’s meeting was of historic significance as it marked the UN’s 75th anniversary.

Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26.

He is expected to talk about the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, peace and security, human rights, and geopolitical developments in Asia-Pacific, as well as other issues.

Duterte’s participation in the event is significant, mainly because he had threatened to pull the Philippines out of the UN in the early days of his presidency after facing criticism over his bloody war on drugs. He later backtracked, saying that he was “only joking.”

The theme for this year’s UNGA session is: “The future we want, the United Nations we need: Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism — confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action.”

Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozker, who is president of the 75th UNGA, will preside over the meeting. Brazil is the first speaker, followed by the US, Turkey, China, Chile, South Africa, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Jordan, South Korea, Qatar, Philippines, Iran and France.

Borje was asked what had made Duterte decide to take part. He replied that the president’s participation had always been considered since the beginning of his term.

“But of course this year takes on special significance because it’s the 75th anniversary. But more than just that, the milestone landmark … It’s the intensity and the urgency needed to address global issues. The president recognizes that the Philippines cannot do it alone, and the United Nations is the world’s biggest platform where one country can articulate a country’s principled position on many items and many issues. And this is why he decided to join the UN General Assembly high-level debate this month.”

The world can expect to hear the president articulate the country’s positions on a range of issues — including his controversial war on drugs. 

“Yes,” said Borje. “That will be part of the president’s speech. He will address issues on human rights and justice.”

Duterte is also expected to raise the issue of the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea as his speech will also touch on peace and security, including terrorism.

The Philippines was one of the founding members of the UN, signing the UN Declaration in 1942.