Given the tendency among Western nations and the Western media to sling mud at Sri Lanka, especially ahead of a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, the new Gotabaya Rajapaksa government has decided not to add grist to the anti-Lankan propaganda mill by politicizing the Swiss embassy “abduction” case and the “threatening gesticulation” case against Brig.Priyantha Fernando, former Defense Attache at the Lankan High Commission in the UK.
“The Swiss embassy matter is in the court. It is no longer a matter we can decide,” said a well-placed Lankan government source.
As regards the conviction of Brig.Fernando by a London Magistrate, government will go on appeal, sources said. The officer in question had diplomatic immunity, a fact the Magistrate had ignored, sources pointed out.
In a statement the government said that the case against Brig.Fernando was politically motivated.
Lankan Defense Secretary Gen. (rtd) Kamal Gunaratne told a meeting in Pannipitiya that the Swiss embassy had acted on behalf of the Tamil Diaspora.
However, government is aware that politicizing these issues beyond a point, will not only upset bilateral relations with Switzerland and the UK (Europe is a major market for Sri Lankan exports) but also encourage Western governments and various anti-Lankan lobbies in the West to whip up anti-Lankan and anti-Gotabaya sentiments ahead of the UNHRC session in March 2020, where, Western nations, egged on by the Tamil Diaspora, are preparing to move against Sri Lanka.
But no government or lobby can legitimately object if the Gotabaya Administration takes the legal route and asserts its sovereign rights as a State to investigate and adjudicate in a criminal matter which allegedly took place in its territory and in which its nationals were involved. This is why a top government source said that the matter had been left to the courts to decide, on the basis of evidence provided by the investigators.
At a meeting with foreign envoys, Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out the discrepancies between the Swiss Ambassador’s version of the events and the technical evidence meticulously gathered by the CID. The Ambassador’s representative appeared to have accepted the government’s thesis and only asked it not to raise the pitch and spoil bilateral ties. He also asked the government to curb hostile anti-Swiss propaganda in the Lankan media.
Gunawardena assured that Colombo would do the needful to keep bilateral relations on an even keel. But in his meticulous presentation prior to that, he did not mince words about the government’s suspicion that the alleged incident was part of an orchestrated campaign to malign the newly elected government.
It was after the meeting with the Foreign Minister and a court order that the Swiss embassy allowed the employee to give a statement to the police (not in the CID office but in the embassy). Later she was allowed to be examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) as the embassy had alleged that she was highly traumatized by the abduction, sexual assault and detention for two hours before being allowed to go.
The case is intriguing, and hence the need for an unhurried and meticulous investigation. Though the alleged incident took place on November 25 and a Tamil website had put out the story on November 26, it was only on November 27 that the Swiss Ambassador presented a demarche to the Lankan Foreign Ministry demanding an impartial investigation and action. Neither the victim nor the embassy had thought it fit to lodge a complaint with the police.
The Ambassador complained to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa but the victim was yet to lodge a complaint with the police. The Swiss Foreign Office had summoned the Lankan Ambassador to lodge a complaint. But when it came to investigations, the Swiss embassy would not allow the CID to talk to the victim who was ensconced there with her entire family. The CID officials were not allowed to see the CCTV footage.
The embassy said that the alleged victim was too traumatized to talk or to give a statement. As regards medical examination, the CID was told that a Swiss doctor had examined over video. Wanting to whisk her away, the embassy sought permission to take her away from the country by an air ambulance.
But the government refused and alerted the airport. The CID got a Chief Magistrate’s court order saying that she cannot leave the country before giving a statement to the police by December 9. As she had no option, she gave a statement which took five hours. She refused a medical examination by a male doctor but finally on Monday was examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) and came to the CID to give a second statement.
Since the CID needs time to work on the evidence provided, the court extended the travel ban to December 12. It remains to be seen if the police will ask for a further extension because the gang which allegedly abducted her is still to be identified or traced.
Since the government has openly expressed its suspicion that the alleged abduction is a conspiracy to malign it in the eyes of the Lankan public and the world, the investigators’ task of tracing the culprits and their national and international links is going to be onerous. It is hoped that the Swiss embassy will continue to comply with the requirements of the police.
The diplomatic fallout of the investigations could be troublesome if a conspiracy involving the Swiss authorities directly or indirectly, comes to light. Defusing it will be a challenging task for both the countries.