Clash Between The Judiciary And A Minister
- Fishermen’s Issue Pushed Aside Yet Again
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The plight of the Muslim fishermen in Uppukulam, Mannar remains the same while attack on the Mannar courthouse by protesting fishermen on the 18th has resulted in a clash between the judiciary and Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.
Bathiudeen has now been asked to show cause on September 5th by the Court of Appeal as to why he should not be held on Contempt of Court charges following a petition filed by seven lawyers.
Muslims in Uppukulam were evicted by the LTTE in 1990 and the Muslim fishermen fled to camps in Puttalam and Anuradhapura. However, during the ceasefire period in 2002 some of the Muslim fishermen returned to Uppukulam. The Muslims returned to their livelihoods in Uppukulam to use the facilities in the area for fishing. At this point in time Tamil fishermen from Vidathaltheevu, which was occupied by the LTTE, also moved to Uppukulam.
The LTTE had intervened and directed the Muslim fishermen to carry out their fishing activities in the area alongside the Tamil fishermen.
The objections raised by the Muslim fishermen were silenced by the LTTE saying it would be a temporary arrangement and that the Tamil fishermen would find another area once the remaining Muslim fishermen from Uppukulam returned to their village.
Following the end of the war, the rest of the Muslim fishermen from Uppukulam had also returned.
Sharing the existing facilities with the Tamil fishermen became difficult due to constraints on land and other facilities.
The Muslim fishermen have since been requesting the Tamil fishermen to vacate the area as agreed initially.
The Muslim fishermen have lamented that they were unable to carry out their livelihood due to the occupation of their land and facilities by the Tamil fishermen. Subsequently, meetings were held with the Mannar GA and SP to resolve the dispute.
According to N. Nauseen, every meeting resulted in the Tamil fishermen requesting for more time. “They kept asking for two years or a few months to re-locate and the Muslim fishermen have been affected as a result,” he said, adding the issue has now dragged for over 10 years.
Following the failure of discussions, a group of Muslim fishermen have tried to forcibly take back the lands by destroying some of the waadis set up on the beach by the Tamil fishermen.
“These are our lands,” Nauseen said. However, the Tamil fishermen claiming that the damages caused by the Muslim fishermen amounted to Rs. 14 lakhs had then lodged a complaint with the police.
The arrest of the Muslim fishermen and the court order allowing the Tamil fishermen to continue fishing in the area until an alternative was found resulted in the violence in Mannar on the 18th.
A complaint made by Mannar Magistrate Anthonypillai Judeson of intimidating telephone calls allegedly made by Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen has now resulted in the judiciary protesting against Bathiudeen and calling for action against him on Contempt of Court charges.
Judeson has complained that Bathiudeen had attempted to intimidate him to reverse his order made on the 13th where he directed the Tamil fishermen to continue to use the fishing facilities in Uppukulam until an alternative was found and for police to provide protection to them.
In his statement noted by the Mannar HQI Thushara Daluwatte on the 19th, Judeson has said that a call came from a mobile phone at 9.45 a.m. on the 17th. The caller had identified himself as Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.
The Minister had then gone on to say he needed to speak to the judge. When the judge had said, “Ok”, the caller had said, “Your order yesterday was wrong. Mannar is going to burn as a result.”
Judeson has said that he had disconnected the line when the caller had continued to criticize the judgment and alleged that he was working against the Muslim community.
The Magistrate has added that Bathiudeen had previously called in June this year and that he was told to complain to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).
The Magistrate’s statement to the police notes that the caller had asked him not to take any action against the respondents in case number B273/2012.
Judeson has noted that he had informed of this matter to the then chief justice Ashoka de Silva, who had said to inform him if there was any further harassment.
He has added that a call was received by him on the 18th from a ‘private number’ around 1 pm.
“The caller identified himself as Rishad Bathiudeen and said that ‘I told you that Mannar would burn. Now all this is because of your order,” Judeson has stated.
However, Bathiudeen has denied these allegations saying he had never met the Magistrate or spoken to him.
He has added that he was at a meeting with the President and several other MPs and Ministers on the 18th at 1pm when the Magistrate had claimed he had received a telephone call from him.
Bathiudeena says that he should not be accused without holding an inquiry into the incident.
Be that as it may, while the judiciary is at loggerheads with Bathiudeen, the issues faced by the Muslim and Tamil fishermen in Uppukulam are far from being resolved.
In usual fashion, the tussle between two key factions (the judiciary and a minister) has taken prominence in all forums. Several attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact Mannar District Secretary Sarath Raveendra for a comment on how the fishermen’s issue would be addressed failed.
Chronology Of Events
Following is the English translation of the document sent by the Mannar GA to Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen highlighting the background to the Mannar incident that started in 2002:
Issues relating to fishermen settled in Thottaveli and tying boats belonging to them at the pier
(This report has been prepared based on the meetings held with the representatives of Pallimunai Fishermen Coop Society, Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society, Panamkattikottu Fishermen Coop Society)
As a result of the disturbance occurred in the country, the fishermen of Vidathaltheevu with their families came to Mannar Island through Pallimunai Village in July 1990.
The Pallimunai villagers provided food for them and directed them to the refugee camps established at Pesalai. While these people were staying in the Pesalai Camp, they were allowed to do fishing through Pallimunai pier for one year.
At the same time, in 1990 due to disturbances that erupted in Mannar island, the Pallimunai fishermen got displaced and moved to Vidathaltheevu. The Pallimunai fishermen were not allowed to do fishing at Vidathaltheevu through their own boats or through the boats belong to fishermen of Vidathaltheevu.
There were instances where the Pallimunai fishermen were not allowed to bring their fishing equipment through Vidathaltheevu pier. As there was continuous difference of opinion between the Pallimunai fishermen and Vidathaltheevu fishermen living in the Pesalai camp, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen were expelled from Pallimunai pier. Thereafter, from May 2000 the displaced Vidathaltheevu fishermen had a discussion with the Panamkattikottu fishermen and commenced doing fishing from Panamkatrtikottu pier.
During this period, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen had difference of opinion and conflict with Panamkattikottu fishermen and as a result in December 2001, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen were expelled from the Panamkattikottu pier.
The Uppukulam and Vidathaltheevu Fishermen Coop Society members under the chairmanship of Sea Tiger area chief Amuthan had a discussion and arrived at a decision that Kondapitty pier belongs to Uppukulam fishermen and until the situation improves with the permission of the Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society, the Vidalthaltheevu fishermen could engage in fishing activities and without the permission of Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen cannot establish fishing huts (waadiya).
As the period granted by Uppukulam fishermen to Vidathaltheevu fishermen has expired, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen had to vacate the Uppukulam pier, and on this matter the Asst. Director of Fisheries had a discussion with the Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society and permission was granted to do fishing upto 10.08.2005.
The Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society granted further one year to do fishing after Adaikalanathan M.P. had discussions with the representatives of the Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society at his District Office.
At the request of Asst. Director Fisheries, Mannar and Adaikalanathan M.P., the Sri Lanka Fisheries Harbour Corporation issued a letter allowing the Vidathaltheevu fishermen to tie their boats at Mannar Kondapitty Pier (letter attached).
At a meeting attended by Adaikalanathan M.P., Divisional Secretary, Asst. Director of Fisheries Mannar, Fisheries Inspectors of Vidathaltheevu, representatives of the Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society and representatives of the Uppukulam Mosque Trustee Board, president over by Government Agent the following decisions were taken:
1. Kondapitty pier belongs to Uppukulam fishermen. On humanitarian grounds, the members of the Vidathaltheevu Fishermen Coop Society to be allowed to do fishing through this pier.
2. In this respect, the Vidathaltheevu Fishermen Coop Society and Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society should enter an agreement and implement it (agreement attached)
3. The agreement should be renewed annually.
Though the above agreement was prepared as both parties could not agree on certain matters, it was not signed. However, the Uppukulam Society did not bar Vidathaltheevu fishermen doing fishing there.
At a meeting chaired by Government Agent to discuss about Uppukulam village, the Kondapitty pier was discussed as item 12 and it transpired that issues between Uppukulam fishermen and Vidathaltheevu fishermen had been temporarily resolved.
When the Minister of Fisheries visited Mannar, the Uppukulam fishermen handed over an appeal seeking the assistance on the Minister to settle the Kodapitty pier issue (letter attached).
In response to the appeal handed over to the Minister of Fisheries by Uppukulam fishermen, on the advice of the Asst. Director of Fisheries, a meeting was convened on 03.11.2011 in the presence of the President of the Federation of Mannar District Fishermen Association and representatives of Pallimunai Fishermen Society, Uppukulam Fishermen Society, Erukalampiddy Fishermen Society, Panamkattikottu Fishermen Society and the following decisions were taken:
1. During the period when Erukalampiddy and Uppukulam fishermen were displaced to Kalpity, the Kalpity fishermen did not allow the Erukkalampiddy/Uppukulam fishermen to do fishing there, they came to Mannar and did fishing through piers at Mannar. Similarly, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen also should get back to Vidathaltheevu and engage in their fishing.
2. This decision should be conveyed to fishermen settled in Thotaveli (accordingly this decision was immediately conveyed to Vidathaltheevu fishermen settled in Thotaveli).
3. The Vidathaltheevu fishermen who are settled in Thotaveli and carrying out their fishing through Kodapitty pier should remove their fishing equipment on or before 30.11.2011.
Though these decisions were conveyed to Vidathaltheevu fishermen living at Thotaveli, they continued to carry on their fishing activities through Kondapitty pier.
Consequent to continuous pressure exerted by Uppukulam fishermen, a meeting was convened at the Office of the Suptd. Of Police, Mannar on 07.06.2012 and attended by representatives of the Vidathaltheevu fishermen settled in Thotaveli and Uppukulam fishermen. After exchange of various views and ideas, it was decided that a meeting should be convened on 11.06.2012 under the chairmanship of Government Agent and issues to be resolved.
The representatives of Vidathaltheevu fishernen settled in Thotaveli and of Uppukulam fishermen met the Government Agent. As the Divisional Secretary, Mannar and Asst. Director of Fisheries had not attended the meeting, after exchange of views and ideas, it was decided to convene a meeting at the office of the Divisional Secretary, Mannar on 15.06.2012. (Minutes attached).
As this issue has not been resolved during the last 10 years the Asst. Director Fisheries directed that until the anchorage area (Paadu) is resurveyed and allocated, the Vidathaltheevu fishermen settled in Thotaveli should go to Vidathaltheevu and engage in fishing. At this meeting as the issue relating to anchorage area (Paadu) is considered a vital one, Pallimunai and Panamkattikottu fishermen associations were asked to provide temporary facilities to Vidathaltheevu fishermen settled in Thotaveli by the Divisional Secretary, Mannar Town.
As no constructive decision has been taken at this meeting, it was decided to convene a meeting under the chairmanship of Government Agent soon.
A meeting was held under the chairmanship of Government Agent at Kachcheri. The following attended the meeting:
1. Asst. District Secretary
2. Divisional Secretary, Mannar Town
3. Asst. Director, Fisheries
4. Senior Supdt. Of Police
5. Officers of the Thallady Army Headquarters
6. Rev. Fr. Thotaveli
7. President Federation of Mannar District
8. Representatives of Uppukulam Fishermen Coop Society
9. Representatives of Panamkat tikottu Fishermen Coop Soc ety
10. Representatives of Erukalam piddy Fishermen Coop Society
11. Representatives of Pallimunai Fishermen Coop Society
12. Representatives of Thotaveli Fishermen Village Organization
1) Permission is granted to put up temporary huts along the sea beach 100 meters long belonging to Coastal Conservative Dept., behind the building of Youth Service Organization which is situated 3 kilometers from Mannar Town and fishermen of Thotaveli to tie their boats at lagoons where Panamkattikottu and Periyakamam fishermen do their fishing activities (in terms of Coastal Maintenance Act No. 67 of 1981).
2) The permission granted to Thotaveli fishermen is temporary and is valid only upto the surveying and allocated.
3) The temporary permission granted Thotaveli fishermen to tie the boats at the allocated anchorage area. Their fishing activities should be carried out at Vidathaltheevu sea area.
4) The Vidathaltheevu fishermen should not behave in a manner detrimental to Panamkattikottu, Pallimunai, Erukkalampiuddy and Periyagamam fishermen during the period Thotaveli fishermen are allowed to tie their boats in the anchorage areas.
5) The permission granted to Thotaveli fishermen will be cancelled, if it is proved they are found obstructing other fishermen engaged in fishing activities. The Vidathaltheevu fishermen should clean the new temporary areas immediately and engage in fishing activities and they should not use the Kondapity pier.
Following this the new temporary anchorage area allocated to Vidathaltheevu fishermen has been claimed by Erukkalampiddy and Tharapuram fishermen as their area of fishing activities and they brought their boats the Thotaveli fishermen could not engage in any activities at the temporary anchorage areas allocated to them.
Without giving any prior notice the Vidathaltheevu fishermen settled in Thotaveli had gone for fishing through Kondapitty pier on 12.07.2012 and 13.07.2012. On 13.07.2012 at about 2pm the people of Uppukulam came to the anchorage area and asked the Vidathaltheevu fishermen to remove the huts.
During this dispute, the huts were demolished but no damage had been caused to their goods and equipments. At this stage the Police came to the scene and Uppukulam people left the place.
Asst. Director of Fisheries
“I Respect The Court” – Bathiudeen
Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen while denying the allegation leveled against him of trying to intimidate Mannar Magistrate Anthonypillai Judeson says that he has never met or spoken to him.
“I respect courts and I’m a charted engineer and I know it would be wrong to try and intimidate a Magistrate. I would not be engaged in such wrongful acts,” he said.
He added that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the protests and unrest in Mannar last week.
“I have been accused without carrying out any proper inquiry. The Magistrate claims I spoke to him over the telephone when he had received a call from my mobile phone number,” Bathiudeen said.
As for the claim that he had tried to intimidate the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and ask for the transfer of the Mannar Magistrate, the Minister said that he had visited the JSC with Attorney at Law and MP Hunais Farook to hand over a complaint signed and given by the Muslims in Mannar.
“If there’s a problem related to the judiciary, we have to go to the JSC and that is where I went,” Bathiudeen said. He added that the complaint signed by the Muslim people had requested for an inquiry into the Magistrate and that it was not a personal request by him.
“There was no intimidation as alleged, I went with a lawyer and came after handing over the complaint,” he observed.
Explaining the protest that turned violent in Mannar, he said that he had been informed the people were engaged in a peaceful protest and the police was asked to use force to disperse them.
“This is what had resulted in them throwing stones,” he noted. “There are protests held outside the Aluthkade court complex and even lawyers have held protests. It would be wrong if anyone tries to forcibly enter the court premises,” he added.
Bathiudeen said that be was informed of the incident in Mannar around 2pm when he was returning after a meeting with the President. He observed that his mobile phone was with his brother at the time and he was unaware of the incident until he came out.
“I spoke to the President, Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and went to Thallaldi in helicopter after pumping fuel to it in Palavi. It was around 3.30pm and I prayed before meeting the people,” he recounted.
He said the Muslim fishermen had spoken of their grievances saying that they continued to suffer even after the end of the war.
“The people even blamed me saying that I have not addressed their issues, which I agreed,” he said.
According to Bathiudeen, he did not want to interfere in the Muslim fishermen’s issue since it related to two communities.
“I left it was for the government officials to handle, but they too seemed to have failed,” he said. “No one has asked me anything and instead they are accusing me. There needs to be a proper inquiry,” he added.
“Bad Precedent” – Mannar Bar Head, Feldano
President of the Mannar Bar Association, I. C. Feldano says that action needs to be taken regarding this matter of political interference in the judiciary or else it would be a bad precedent.
He said the order made by the Mannar Magistrate Anthonypillai Judeson was fair since he has given time for the Tamil fishermen to find another location and the land would then be returned to the Muslim fishermen.
Recounting the incident that led to the incident where the Mannar courthouse came under attack, Feldano said the fishermen’s issue in Uppukulam triggered on the 13th when the Muslim fishermen had attacked the Tamil fishermen after Jumma prayers.
He observed that the police had failed to take action against those who had burnt the wadiyas of the Tamil fishermen although it could be charged as mischief and destruction of property.
“After two days, the police had filed a B report in court on the 16th, but no arrests were made,” he said.
He explained that the Mannar Magistrate had then given an order saying the Tamil fishermen be allowed to continue with their fishing activities in the area until they are directed to an alternative location and directed the police to provide protection for them to carry out their work.
“The following day, on the 17th the police had filed papers requesting for an order to prevent any protest campaigns in order to maintain peace in the area after receiving information that there was going to be a commotion the next day,” Feldano said.
On the 18th, a mob of Muslim fishermen had come near the courthouse and started to protest against the Magistrate’s decision made on the 16th.
“The protestors have shouted near the courthouse while courts were in session and they made personal remarks against the Magistrate. However, the Magistrate adjourned court sessions after several lawyers had requested him to do so due to the protests,” Feldano noted.
He further explained that after adjourning sessions, the Magistrate called the Mannar SP and ASP to his Chamber and asked them to disperse the crowd, but no action was taken. “They were called again and asked to control the situation, yet nothing changed. However, the police fired tear gas and dispersed the crowd when the Magistrate said he would report to a higher office,” he said.
Meanwhile, when the protestors started to throw stones at the courthouse, several stones had hit the newly built Mannar High Court.
According to Feldano, the newly appointed High Court Judge who was in his office at the time had then come and told the Magistrate that an order could have been given to arrest by shooting below the knee.
“The Magistrate then called the army and the crowd by then had dispersed. The protest went on for three hours,” he said. The Magistrate had received the alleged phone call from Minister Rishad Bathiudeen when he was together with several lawyers inspecting the damages to the courthouse. “It was from Minister Bathiudeen and we heard the Magistrate saying he could not be intimidated and disconnected the line,” Feldano said.