Tamil protesters gather outside court. March 1, 2019
The judge at Westminster Magistrates Court today concluded the Sri Lankan Brigadier, accused of making a death threat to Tamil protesters in London last year, was not covered by diplomatic immunity whilst making the gesture.
Stating the Brigadier Priyanka Fernando's threats were not part of his job description as Sri Lanka's then defence attache, and therefore not covered by diplomatic immunity, the judge adjourned the case until March 15.
During the court case the job description of a Sri Lankan defence attache was read out in court, as the defence argued that the gesture was indeed part of the Brigadiers job description.
The job entails "monitoring any anti-Sri Lanka activities in the UK" and reporting to the ministry of defence, intelligence agencies, amongst others, as well as "monitoring any LTTE activities in the UK and devising appropriate plan with the coordination of intelligence agencies in Sri Lanka to counter it" the defence explained.
The judge rejected the idea that the death threat could be part of a defence attache's job description.
See job description in full below:
A private prosecution was brought against the Sri Lankan soldier who was filmed motioning a death threat to Tamils in London last year, running his finger across his neck whilst dressed in full military uniform. 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.
The brigadier was tried in absence and found guilty of violating sections 5 and 4A of the Public Order Act, with the court stating that his actions were threatening, caused harassment, and that he intended them to be so.
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The arrest warrant was later revoked in order for the court to hear on the status of Fernando’s diplomatic immunity.
Prior to the warrant being revoked last month, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was "providing documentation" to assist with the case.
"The FCO, which is not a party to these legal proceedings, has been contacted by Westminster Magistrate’s Court seeking clarification of the Brigadier’s diplomatic status in the UK at the time of the incident. The FCO is providing documentation to assist the court," the FCO spokesperson told Tamil Guardian.
"We were deeply concerned by the incident involving the Sri Lankan Defence Attaché last year and made immediate representations to the Sri Lankan Government. The Defence Attaché was recalled by his Government soon after," the FCO spokesperson added.
“The UK is committed to upholding the rule of law including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
This week the British MP, Siobhain McDonagh, requested clarification as to whether the FCO intervened in favour of withdrawing the warrant.
Writing to the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt about Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, the former military attaché at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, McDonagh MP said:
“A number of my constituents have contacted me raising the serious accusation that a meeting then took place between the Sri Lankan High Commissioner and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that led to the arrest warrant being withdrawn.”
“Please can you outline whether this is indeed the case and, if so, on what basis the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has sought to intervene in the judicial process?”
The Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, last month also asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs “whether he has had discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the revoking of
the arrest warrant for Brigadier Priyanka Fernando.”
Mark Field, the Minister of State, responded that the Foreign Secretary has not had any discussions with Cabinet colleagues regarding the revoke of the arrest warrant for former Defence Attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando.
“We were deeply concerned by the incident involving the Sri Lankan Defence Attaché last year and made immediate representations to the Sri Lankan Government. I called Foreign Minister Marapana on 8 February 2018 about the matter to raise his concerns. The Defence Attaché was recalled by his Government soon after.
He added that, “the FCO, which is not party to the legal proceedings referred to, was contacted by Westminster Magistrate’s Court seeking clarification of the Brigadier’s diplomatic status in the UK at the time of the incident. The FCO has provided documentation to assist the court. The UK is committed to upholding the rule of law including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”