A Sri Lankan brigadier who motioned death threats to Tamil protestors in London last year has been found guilty by a British court of violating the Public Order Act, after a protracted legal battle.
Westminster Magistrate’s Court upheld a previous ruling that Sri Lanka’s Brigadier Priyanka Fernando “is not protected by diplomatic immunity”, despite pleas made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry.
“I have no doubt that the cut-throat gestures were made on 4th February 2018,” said Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot in her ruling earlier today. It went on to add,
“I have no doubt he intended to cause at the least alarm. They were purposeful gestures, made as the Brigadier was staring at these protesters. The Brigadier was a senior officer in uniform wearing medals. Unlike the other senior officer there, his body language appeared to be arrogant and intimidating. There were three gestures and not just one. In the context of the relationship between Sri Lanka and Tamil Elam protesters he must have known that it would have been alarming at the very least to the protesters who saw him do this.”
Fernando was found guilty of violating section 4A of the Public Order Act.
See the video of his offence below.
He was attending a celebration at the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK to mark ‘Independence Day’ at the time, whilst British Tamils held a demonstration outside with placards and Tamil Eelam flags. Sri Lankan officials were also seen photographing the protestors in an apparent act of intimidation.
Fernando was not present for any of the proceedings, having returned to Sri Lanka, but his lawyer Nicholas Wayne called Sir Peter Heap, a retired British Ambassador who spent three years in Colombo as a witness. He said that the Tamil protestors outside the venue were “very active, with lots of noise and chanting which supported various Tamil Elam groups,” and had flags that “were not LTTE but other ones of a slightly different colour”.
Heap also testified that Fernando “performing the role of defence attaché, introducing people, particularly military people and escorting them in and out of the reception” at the High Commission last year.
Fernando’s role at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, which documents revealed included monitoring ‘anti-Sri Lanka activities in the UK’, ‘monitoring any LTTE activities’, bringing to notice ‘any anti government protests’ and ‘execute appropriate strategies to counter it’.
Three Tamils had brought a private prosecution against the brigadier, who has since received a hero’s welcome in Sri Lanka, with a mural honouring him revealed this week. In London though, the case continued to garner outrage, with the then Mayor of Harrow forced to apologise after she posted photographs with the infamous brigadier whilst visiting Sri Lanka. Earlier this year British parliamentarians welcomed news of an arrest warrant being issued for the brigadier, stating “such intimidation is not welcome on our streets”.
“I have no doubt that alarm was caused to all three and that [defendant] Mr Perera was distressed by what he saw,” added Chief Magistrate Arbuthnot in her ruling.
See the full text of her ruling here.
As part of the military offensive in 2009, Brigadier Fernando fought in Weli Oya and Janakapura for the 11 Gemunu Watch Battalion as part of the 59 Division of the Sri Lankan Army, implicating himself in war crimes.The United Nations OHCHR Investigation into Sri Lanka detailed multiple incidents, implicating the 59 Division in the shelling of hospitals south of Mullaitivu.