Following a massive public backlash, particularly on social media, President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday released what the Presidential Secretariat termed as an explanation for his pardon of Shramantha Jude Anthony Jayamaha, who in 2005 was convicted of brutally murdering Yvonne Johnson. But the two-page document fails to provide any serious logical or legal arguments to back up President Sirisena’s actions.
What it does instead is show how deep quid-pro-quo lobbying can run in Sri Lanka and how little if any consideration is given to the victim and her family. The document, which is worth reading in full, is essentially a list of Buddhist monks, priests, lawyers and even former judges supposedly writing an endless stream of appeals to the president seeking to have this one prisoner pardoned even though Jayamaha has never even expressed remorse for his horrific actions.
The justification given over and over again is the fact that the murderer received a degree while in prison and has behaved in an exemplary manner and given that he has already served 15 years in prison, he should therefore be released. There is also a passage in the President’s statement that says those lobbying for the pardon also called for the decision to be guided by kindness and compassion. This statement is somewhat ironic as one noteworthy appellant was MP Rathana Thero who has also courted controversy multiple times in the past for his anti-minority activism and promotion of intolerance, which can hardly be seen as embedded in kindness or compassion.
The legal process exists to deal with crimes and to ensure that the guilty parties are punished. There can be instances when justice is miscarried and it may then be necessary to intervene to correct the situation but that also needs to be done from within the legal framework. The verdict in the Royal Park murder case was delivered after numerous rounds of hearings and later upheld despite an appeal process. There has been no indication of a miscarriage of justice that warrants any external intervention from the President, especially not through the use of his Executive powers.
Moreover, there is evidence to show that Jayamaha had a history of violent behaviour, which culminated in the horrific murder. Releasing such a dangerous person back into society should not be taken lightly no matter what education he has managed to gather in the interim. The victim’s family has already come out in protest and it is disheartening and sad that they cannot find closure and move forward even 15 years after this terrible incident but must instead continue their battle for justice.
The sister of the victim has pointed out that contrary to President Sirisena’s assertion that the murder happened as a result of an argument, there were clear signs of premeditation. Seemingly reducing the severity of a crime and seeking to find reasons to release the offender is not an act that should be considered by a Head of State. It also shows a blatant and callous disregard for the heartbreak felt every single day by the family of the victim and clearly the public feels that they, not the murderer, deserve kindness and compassion.
President Sirisena has set back women’s rights and the justice system with one flourish of his pen. In his last days in office he has sealed the disdain the public have shown him for years and through this and other numerous actions ensured that his legacy will only be recalled with derision and disgust.