Global Human Rights Group, Amnesty International, expressed their concerns and disapproval over Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to grant a presidential pardon and release Staff Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake, who was found guilty of the ‘Mirusuvil massacre’.
“Where accountability is so rare for serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the government’s arbitrary decision to release Sergeant Rathnayake sends an extremely worrying message. It means that military perpetrators of horrific crimes, even if convicted through a court of law, will be pardoned and released,” said Amnesty International’s Regional Director for South Asia, Biraj Patnaik.
Despite it coming at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic calling for prisoner safety, the decision to release Rathnayake has allegedly been in the works for months.
General secretary of the far-right ‘Sinhale’ organisation, Medille Pannaloka, took to his Facebook account to welcome the decision and extended his gratitude to Ministry of Defence Secretary, Kamal Gunaratne, for reassuring him that they would release Rathnayake.
“Using the pandemic as an opportunity to release those convicted for heinous crimes is reprehensible. Victims have a right to justice, and Sri Lanka has an obligation to ensure that justice is done. After many long years, the victims of the Mirusuvil massacre from 2000 finally got a semblance of justice in 2015. It is despicable to have that justice reversed through an arbitrary Executive decision,” said Biraj Patnaik.
Rathnayake who was released from Welikada Prison in Colombo earlier today, was sentenced to death on June 25, 2015 by the Colombo High Court after a 13-year-trial for the massacre of eight Tamil Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in December 2000. His victims included children, amongst who was a five-year-old whose body showed signs of torture.
Before becoming president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged in October 2019, that once in power, he would acquit and release ‘war heroes’ being held on ‘baseless’ charges.
“Everyone should condemn this move in no uncertain terms,” tweeted Sri Lanka and South Asia Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, Thyagi Ruwanpathirana.
Rathnayake’s release has been unequivocally condemned by Tamil civil society. Jaffna University senior law lecturer, Kumaravadivel Guruparan tweeted, “Not surprising but utterly disgusting - in the middle of a crisis furthering the politics of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.”