For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
According to reports, the Chief Justice (CJ) through her lawyers have informed the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that she wishes to waive the right to have the impeachment proceedings in-camera and instead wishes the inquiry to be open to the public. The Rajapaksa government has used every opportunity to make their allegations against the CJ public; in fact, a propaganda war has been waged making use of the state media, taxi drivers and paid demonstrators. Since the government is so eager to create the widest possible publicity and thinks that such publicity is to its advantage there is no reason for it not to grant the wish of the CJ, the affected judge, to waive her rights given under Standing Order 78A (8) which prescribes that the proceedings should be published only if the judge is found guilty. Since this Standing Order is a safeguard against the judge who is being accused the waiving of the safeguard is the prerogative of the affected judge.
Since 117 Members of Parliament have signed the petition supporting the allegations it is not only their right but also their duty to find out whether the allegations they have made are sustainable or they are blatant lies. The CJ through her lawyers have invited the MPs to come and there is no valid reason for them to refuse that invitation. Surely any honest accuser would want to know whether they accusations he or she has made are true or false.
The Rajapaksa government relies heavily on propaganda. It has used the state television and other media to propagate its position with extraordinary zest. In fact, it has even allowed the broadcasters to break all their ethical codes and do all they can to put before the people whatever the government wishes to propagate. Under such circumstances if the government believes that it has a genuine case against the CJ there is no reason to deny the wish of the CJ to have the allegations inquired into in full glare of the public.
In fact, when allegations are being made against the chief of the judiciary such allegations are of the highest public importance and therefore the public would have a good reason to know what is going on. If the government wants to deny the public their right to know it is their obligation to explain to the public as to why it is denying the request made by the CJ. The government cannot take cover under the Standing Order 78A (8) which is available to a judge for the purpose of protecting that judge against unfair allegations. By indicating that the CJ wishes the inquiry to be held in public she is clearly stating that she has nothing to hide and that she is willing to bear the consequences of having the inquiry in public.
The judicial officers who met last week expressed their concern about the process of impeachment which they see as unfair, not only to the CJ but also to the independence of the judiciary as a whole. They are concerned that under the abuse of media freedoms used against the judiciary it would become difficult to continue with the judicial function in the country and this is a serious warning of what is at stake. It is the administration of justice in the entire country which is in peril due to manner in which the government has proceeded in this case.
By all indications most people in the country and also in the international community are not with the government as far as these proceedings are concerned. The government has failed to convince the public and the international community that it, in fact, has a just cause to take the steps that it has on this issue. There are open accusations of blatant unfairness and injustice made by senior citizens including Buddhist monks.
Under these circumstances the government is under the obligation to respect the right of information of the public. As the CJ herself has invited the government to grant the public their right to view the inquiry the refusal of the government would indicate that it is deliberately attempting to withhold information on a matter of the greatest public importance.
As for the example of other countries it was quite recently that an impeachment inquiry was held in the Philippines against their Chief Justice. The entire proceedings were telecast internationally. In that particular instance that Chief Justice was found guilty of the charges as it was proved that he held about two million US dollars in foreign banks without disclosing this in his declaration of assets. As the people had the opportunity to watch the proceedings there were no allegations of any kind of unfairness towards the judge during the proceedings.
As the CJ of Sri Lanka has herself invited the government to provide opportunity for the public to view these proceedings the government might follow the example of the Philippines and telecast the proceedings.