By S. Rubatheesan
After raising a breach of Parliamentary privilege in the House this week, Jaffna district Parliamentarian Gejendrakumar Ponnamablam is awaiting three separate bodies to conclude their probes into an incident involving two police officers in civvies, before he considers further legal action against his arrest which he claims is “illegal and arbitrary”.
A Magisterial inquiry, a probe by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee and an investigation by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) are currently underway over the incident last week.
“Since the charges levelled against me are criminal in nature by the police who are also the main party in this case, I’m waiting for the final verdict from the Court,” MP Ponnambalam told the Sunday Times.
When Mr Ponnambalam was produced on Wednesday in the Kilinochchi Magistrate Court the court called for a report from the Senior Superintendent Of Police (SSP) on the conduct of the police after observing contradictions in the B report and the video evidence submitted by the police.
Last Friday (June 2), when the Jaffna Parliamentarian — who has refused security provided to MPs from the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) since he was elected to the House — met a local youth club members in Vadamarachchi East, he did not expect any controversy that would result in his arrest days later. To cover the expenses of conducting ten tournaments in the region, the MP had handed over a cash donation to the club as well.
A heated argument had broken out between the MP and two individuals who turned out to be police intelligence officials when the MP had demanded some form of identification since he was alerted by one of the attendees that one of them had a concealed weapon on him.
The MP claimed another police official who was inside the school located adjacent to the playground assaulted him and aimed a loaded gun at him during the argument.
The whole incident went viral on social media platforms.
The following day, two of his party officials were taken into custody and released on bail later by Maruthankerni police under charges of obstructing police from carrying out their duties.
On Wednesday, the MP was arrested at his Queen’s Road residence in Colombo under similar charges of obstructing police duties. He was produced in the Kilinochchi Magistrate court and granted bail.
The two police officials who were involved in the incident gave a four hour long statement to the regional office of the Human Rights Commission in Jaffna.
There were heated exchanges after Mr Ponnambalam raised a privilege issue under Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act No 5 of 1978 in the house over his arrest on Thursday. Public Security Minister Tiran Alles said he had called for a report from the police and that he had watched videos of the incident. It is clear based on their contents that Mr Ponnambalam had not behaved like a Member of Parliament during that incident, the minister claimed.
Mr Alles said two police officers in civvies of the police special branch had visited the location where the MP was holding a meeting after being informed of it by officers who were providing security for the nearby GCE Ordinary Level examination centre. He said that they had clearly identified themselves as police officers, though he accepted they may not have shown their identity cards straight away.
Mr. Alles said the video clearly showed Mr Ponnambalam chasing after one of the officers and grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and by his hand. He said the officer is seen shaking off the hand and running away. The video next shows the MP in a heated argument with police officers who were at the nearby examination centre.
“My point is, you might know that they are officers. I don’t. I can’t take their word for it,” said Mr Ponnambalam in response to the minister. “If they come to a place and if they are trying to act in the name of police they must first establish themselves as police officers. You can’t come in civvies and claim you are police.” Mr Ponnambalam alleged that the officers refused to produce their identity cards when asked to do so.
Minister Alles countered that one of the officers who was verbally abused by the MP was next to an officer who was in uniform, who stressed that they were police. He said Mr Ponnambalam’s behaviour was not acceptable. “As the minister in charge of police, I just can’t tolerate that kind of thing and I cannot tell the police not to take action.”
“It is quite clear to me now that the police were acting on your advice,” the AITC leader said to the minister. He rejected accusations that his meeting was disturbing candidates sitting the O/Level exam because the centre in question was not even an examination centre but a coordinating centre. Moreover, the incident happened at 3.30 p m. The final exam for that day had finished by 3 p.m. islandwide, he pointed out. The entire incident was orchestrated by the two officers who came to disturb his meeting in civvies, he said.
Raising a point of order, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran questioned Minister Alles as to what was the hurry to arrest Mr Ponnambalam this week when Parliament sessions were going on. The Parliament Powers and Privileges Act clearly states that an MP cannot be prevented from attending Parliament, he pointed out. “The police under you knew very well that he was in Colombo to attend Parliament. What was this hurry to arrest him and take him all the way to Kilinochchi?”
Minister Alles said the police had been looking for Mr Ponnambalam on June 5 to record a statement. “You say he came to Colombo to attend Parliament. On the 6th, he did not attend Parliament though he was in Colombo.”
Mr Ponnambalam countered that he did come to Parliament on the 6th at 5 .pm. to hand over his letter regarding a breach of privilege to the Secretary General. “The Speaker knew of all of this,” he added.
The arrest of the Jaffna Parliamentarian saw widespread condemnation locally from local political parties and diaspora groups this week.