The Sunday Leader

Vithanage Qustions The Silence In The Court

by Nandasiri Fernando

Scenes from the Documentary Usaviya Nihadai

When protectors of justice in a country themselves abuse its very base, from where do the ordinary in that country seek justice? Veteran film director Prasanna Vithanage’s documentary Usaviya Nihadai (Silence in the Courts) discusses an era of Sri Lanka (1996-2005) where starting from the highest authority of its judicial system to its every other section was under the corrupt and where they indulge in personal gratification taking advantage of the very persons who come to seek justice for their woes.

Prasanna’s socially responsible directorship and his captivating cinematography keep the audience spell bound to the last scene of his controversial documentary. Everyone seemed reluctant to stand up from their seats even though the end of the documentary displayed on the screen of the Regal Cinema last Tuesday, as if they were in shock having witnessed the injustice meted out to the very ordinary stratum of the country by the powerful, denying them the justice from everywhere they turned to seek it.

As the film begins slowly, the director escorts us in a vehicle to a remote village about 100 miles away from the capital and there we were to get introduced to certain poor victims of the corrupt judicial system of the country. Background narration clings to our feelings, and it does not let us to get away from the train of scenes until they convey our fullest attention to the injustice that reigns over the country even at present. We cringe at our realisation that we live in such a society where the powerful corrupt every norm in society just to gratify their needs.

The documentary shows us only two families that the corrupt system of the country has completely ruined. They still await justice that even now they have not realised. With these two families, Prasanna explains the shocking situation that thousands of under privileged people in this country undergo and their yearning for justice.

The police took into custody the husband of one family and produced him to  court. While he was in remand custody, the judge himself took advantage of his wife by taking her to a remote house and raping her. This disgusted and scandalous sequence happened about four times and the husband came to know the gruesome incidences from his wife herself when she visited him at the remand custody. Furious and utterly frustrated, he sought revenge from the judge and the entire system by throwing human faeces at the judge in the court itself on the next hearing day of his case.

The documentary tells us that this judge in a similar ploy has raped another woman in his chamber in the court itself. Her husband was remanded by the police for a minor offence and the judge bribed his subordinates to ask the wife to enter his chamber for legal advice and took sexual advantage of her. Knowing the incidence, her husband vowed to get revenge on the judge and pursued him to a restaurant and tried to kill him with a sharp tool. Narrowly escaped, the judge took action against the husband by sentencing him to imprisonment.

Their wives in their separate ways sought justice from various authorities in the country and asked them to take action against the judge. They went to the Judicial Services Commission, the Bar Association and the President of the country as well seeking justice. One of the women finally went to a local newspaper and its editor published the story in his newspaper creating an uproar in society against the judge and the system. It followed a series of articles in the same paper which explored the disgusting behaviour of the judge and the system towards the poor and the innocent.

Despite a series articles published in the newspaper revealing the misdeeds of the judge, the then Attorney General was adamant and did not take any action against the judge. Finally after three years, the Judicial Service Commission appointed a tribunal comprising three high court judges to hear the allegations against the judge and give a verdict. The commission at the end of their hearing declared that the judge had actually committed the alleged misdeeds.

However, the Judicial Service Commission did not dismiss the judge from his service, but sent him on compulsory leave with payments. Thereafter, the newspaper editor, Victor Ivan, not stopping at that, continued to level allegations against the Attorney General who prevented the judge from undergoing punishment for his misdeeds. He even wrote a book about the corrupt system and its protectors. Now it was past over 14 year and half, but the editor and these two families are still awaiting for justice to be meted to them. Ironically, about a year after, the then President made this same Attorney General the Chief Justice of the country.

Prasanna like every other courageous truth seeker has gone to many formidable places to expose the true facts of our judicial system. He has met the two women, their husbands, relevant officials, eminent judges and the newspaper editor and brought forward the story that our judicial system now proves us to be true, every passing day.


Director’s Dilemma

The bitter truth has shaken the very base of the system and its stakeholders now try to cover it by preventing the documentary from public screening. Last Wednesday, the Colombo District Court issued an interim injunction order on the documentary thereby preventing its public screening until October 19, taking into consideration a petition that former magistrate Lenin Ratnayake filed in the court stating that the documentary is based on false news reports and not on facts and that its screening would defame him as well as the judicial system of the country.

The judicial system of the country which at one time appointed a special tribunal to hear the allegations levelled against this judge and made him guilty, now has accepted a petition from the same judge and has issued an interim injuction order on the documentary based on the news reports on the same allegations. However, we are made to feel that there should be space for the guilty as well with our judicial system to present his or her case and seek justice.

The director Prasanna Vithanage when asked for a comment last Thursday on the latest development against his documentary said that he has not received any court order preventing the documentary from public screening. He, however, said that he has been asked to come to court and collect the restraining order himself. He also said that he would take necessary legal steps to get released his documentary for public screening.

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