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British court rules Sri Lankan Brigadier guilty after death threats to Tamils

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.