On January 12th 2021, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court imposed a sentence of four years rigorous imprisonment on Sadda Vidda Rajapakse Palanga Pathira Ambakumarage Ranjan Leo Sylvester Alphonsu alias Ranjan Ramanayake finding him guilty of the offence of Contempt of court. Prior to being taken away in a prisons dept vehicle to jail, the film actor cum Parliamentarian made an interesting comment to media representatives. Ranjan Ramanayake said that “he had not committed murder or theft, but he had been sentenced to jail while MP ‘Pillayan’ was being released”.
The reference was to the acquittal of Batticaloa District Parliamentarian Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias “Pillayan” from charges related to the murder of former Tamil National Alliance MP Joseph Pararajasingham. The Tamil Makkal Viduthalip Puligal(TMVP) leader together with four others had been indicted over the brutal assassination which happened fifteen years ago. On Jan 11th the A -G ‘s decision of a “Nolle Prosequi” was conveyed to court. It was obvious that Pillayan was going to be acquitted. Ranjan contrasted his incarceration with that of Pillayan’s impending acquittal with the pithy observation “Pillayan out.Ranjan in”.
It was soon picked up widely by the media and social media. “Pillayan out, Ranjan in” was the theme of many cartoons ,tweets and posts. Even some opposition politicians repeated it. Some questioned the Rajapaksa regime’s professed credo of “One Country, One Law”. It was being inferred indirectly that a travesty of justice had allegedly occurred as Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan was being acquitted of murder charges while Ranjan Ramanayake was being convicted for contempt of court.
“One Shot” Ranjan Ramanayake
Popular cinema hero cum politico Ranjan Ramanayake, known widely as “Gun Shot” has for long been a darling of the Sri Lankan masses. In a Quixotic extension of his screen persona, Ranjan has engaged in many unorthodox initiatives claiming to combat corruption.There are many including this writer who are saddned by the sentence imposed on this impish personality. However the fact remains that Ranjan was convicted after a free and fair trial where he was defended by eminent legal eagles. The 21 page judgement delivered by three respected Supreme Court Judges is very clear about the reasons leading to their verdict. One may opine that the Apex court could have been more merciful in stipulating the jail term duration but disputing or faulting the stated reasoning behind that ruling could prove problematic.
On the other hand the arrest, detention, release and acquittal of former Eastern province chief minister and current Batticaloa MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan is a more complex issue with deeper ramifications. Provisions of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act(PTA) were used to imprison Pillayan. He was in jail for over five years as he was not granted bail until very recently. There is no valid comparison between the Pillayan murder case and the Ranjan Ramanayake contempt case and their respective fates.
What then are the underlying circumstances in the Joseph Pararajasingham murder case and what was the alleged involvement of TMVP leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan in the matter? How and why was Pillayan arrested, detained and now acquitted? Why was he incarcerated for five long years and now released for want of evidence? It is against the backdrop of these questions that this column focuses on the Pillayan acquittal this week.
Former Journalist and entrepreneur Joseph Pararajasingham became an MP representing Batticaloa District in 1991. He remained an MP continuously for 14 years until his demise in 2005. The Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) eastern military commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col”Karuna revolted against Veluppillai Prabhakaran’s leadership in 2004.Among the prominent politicians of Batticaloa, it was Joseph alone who spoke out against Karuna immediately after the split. Joseph was a marked man by Karuna after that. Realising he was a target, Joseph avoided coming to Batticaloa unnecessarily for many months. Yet he did come to Batticaloa weeks before Christmas in 2005 with the intention of stayingon till New Year.
Joseph Pararajasingham Shot Dead
71 year old parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead at the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Batticaloa around 1.10 am on December 25th 2005.Pararajasingham was attending the Christmas midnight mass conducted by Bishop Kingsley Swampillai, the Catholic prelate for the Trincomalee -Batticaloa Diocese. He was returning to his pew after partaking of Holy Communion at the hands of the Bishop when two assassins walked forward and opened fire. While Joseph was killed his wife Sugunam and seven others were injured in the firing.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was then the newly elected president of Sri Lanka. There was very little progress in the investigations into Joseph Pararajasingham’s murder for almost 10 years during Rajapaksa rule. The motions of an investigation were conducted lackadaisically for a while and then the probe came to a stop. Things began changing after the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came into being in 2015. Some of the investigations shelved during the Rajapaksa regime were reactivated. The CID began pursuing a number of cases that had been put into cold storage including the Joseph assassination case.
On 4 October 2015 a team of CID officials led by Chief Inspector Ravindra Wimalasiri arrested two stalwarts of the Thamil Makkal Viduthalip Puligal (TMVP) namely Edwin Silva Krishnanandaraja alias Pradeep Master and Rangasami Kanaganayagam alias ‘Gajan Maamaa’in Batticaloa. Pradeep Master was the District Coordinator of the TMVP in Batticaloa. The TMVP was the political organisation founded by former LTTE Eastern warlord “Col” Karuna after he broke away from the LTTE in 2004.
The TMVP was officially led by “Col” Karuna. However in the absence caused by Karuna’s clandestine sojourn in India and Nepal, his Deputy Leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias “Pillayan” ran the show in the east.Pillayan was in charge of the TMVP at the time of Joseph’s assassination. He was the de-facto chief of the TMVP while the de-jure leader Karuna was away.
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan hailing from the Pethalai village in Batticaloa district was born on August 18th 1975. He had his primary education at Vipulananda Vidyalayam in Pethalai and secondary education at Valaicchenai Hindu college. Chandrakanthan known as Chandra to family and friends joined the LTTE in 1991 at the age of 15 What impelled Chandrakanthan to do so was an ugly incident in which some security personnel brutally assaulted and hospitalised his favourite cousin. Feeling helpless at being unable to prevent the assault, Chandrakanthan voluntarily joined the LTTE as a child soldier.
How “Pillayan” Got His name
Chandrakanthan known as Chandra was initially given the nom de guerre “Kuberan” by the LTTE. However he soon became known as Pillayan. What happened was that Chandrakanthan alias Kuberan was housed at a training camp with 39 other new recruits in the jungles of Vadamunai in the Batticaloa district. He was the youngest in the batch of 40. Chandrakanthan was quite chubby in those days. One of the trainers Karunakaran began teasing him saying he was a “Kundan”(fatty) who resembled a baby elephant. Karunakaran also dubbed him as “Pillayar”(the elephant – faced God Ganesh or Ganapathy). The name caught on with a slight change.Instead of being called Pillayar, he became known as Pillayan which also means child. This was how “Pillayan” got his name
Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan participated in several LTTE operations in the East and Wanni but did not distinguish himself in combat. However he became a trusted confidante of the LTTE Batticaloa-Amparai commander “Col” Karuna. After the ceasefire of 2002 Pillayan was deployed in Kurunegala as an intelligence operative. In early 2004, Pillayan was summoned to Batticaloa by Karuna. At a secret conclave in Tharavai , Karuna indicated that he wanted greater autonomy for the eastern tigers and was going to raise that demand with LTTE supremo Prabhakaran. Pillayan was to recall later that he extended full support to Karuna on this issue while sipping mineral water. He had however cautioned Karuna that care should be taken to avoid a split in the LTTE.
Pillayan was back in Kurunegala when Karuna raised the banner of revolt in March 2004. He immediately returned to Batticaloa. Despite the fracture, Pillayan entertained hopes of rapprochement with the mainstream LTTE but the fighting along the banks of Verugal river in April 2004 changed his mind. Horrified by the massacre of Batticaloa tigers by the mainstream LTTE , Pillayan resolved that the eastern LTTE dissidents should form their own group and function independently under Karuna. The break- away eastern tigers formed the Thamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TEMVP) in 2004. It was later changed to Thamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal(TMVP).
Karuna was the TMVP leader and Pillayan the deputy -leader. While Karuna remained in Colombo and later sojourned in Nepal and India, Pillayan holed up in the jungles along Polonnaruwa district borders. Pillayan led the TMVP in the field in the east. The TMVP was allegedly responsible for many human rights violations and crimes against humanity during the 2006-2008 period. It was also of great assistance to the armed forces who began re-establishing full territorial control over the east during this period.Soon Pillayan became more popular than Karuna with ex-tigers of the east. Sri Lankan intelligence officials handling the TMVP also found it easier to interact with Pillayan instead of Karuna.
Karuna Ousted as TMVP Leader
There was a Coup d’etat within the TMVP in April 2007. Karuna was ousted as leader and replaced by Pillayan. A disgruntled Karuna was sent to the UK to re-join his wife and children as a consolation prize. Karuna was however arrested by British authorities and imprisoned, After some months he was released and deported to Sri Lanka. Meanwhile the armed forces brought the Eastern Province under the writ of the Sri Lankan Govt. The Northern and Eastern provinces merged temporarily due to the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987 had been de-merged with effect from January 1st 2007 by a Supreme court ruling.
Elections were scheduled for the Eastern Province Council in June 2008. The ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA) decided to take the TMVP into its folds and contest the elections. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) threw in its lot with the United National Party(UNP). The Tamil National Alliance boycotted the polls. The UPFA/TMVP combine won 20 of the 37 seats. The then president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UPFA master strategist Basil Rajapaksa opted to have a Tamil chief minister for the first Eastern provincial council administration. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan made history by becoming the first Eastern chief minister.
The Eastern provincial council was prematurely dissolved and new elections were held in September 2012. The UPFA was able to win only 14 of the 37 seats. The TNA which boycotted the 2008 polls contested elections this time and got 11 seats. The TMVP candidates contesting under the UPFA ticket fared miserably. Pillayan was the only Tamil candidate to win from the UPFA. Subsequenty a bonus seat was given to another Tamil Navaratnarajah. MN Abdul Majeed became chief minister. No Tamil was made a minister. When Parliamentary elections were held in August 2015 Pillayan contested and garnered a sizable number of votes but failed to get elected.
Pradeep Master and Gajan Maamaa
Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan got into hot water after his deputies Krishnanandaraja alias Pradeep Master and Kanaganayagam alias ‘Gajan Maamaa’ were taken into custody over the Pararajasingham assassination. Both were detained under the PTA and interrogated. During interrogation, they reportedly made “voluntary confessions” pointing the finger at Pillayan as their “boss” at the time Pararajasingham was killed.
According to the confessions, the assassin who shot Joseph Pararajasingham dead in the cathedral was Palanithamby Shashidaran alias “Shanthan”. Krishnanadarajah alias Pradeep Master claimed in his confession that Pillayan had instructed him by telephone to proceed from Vakarai to Batticaloa town with Shanthan and collect the necessary weapons from the “Patpodi”camp. Pradeep master said he was ordered by Pillayan to accompany Shanthan to St. Mary’s Cathedral where Pararajasingham was killed during Christmas mass. It was however established during interrogation that the assassin Palanithamby Shashidaran alias :Shanthan” was no more among the living.
Following the two confessions implicating Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, the TMVP leader was taken into custody after a detention order was issued under the PTA. Initially a team of Police officers went to Batticaloa to arrest Pillayan. His family however said that Pillayan was not at home though his vehicle was seen parked on the premises. The Police then informed the family that Pillayan was to present himself to the Police in Colombo on 11 October 2015. The ex-Chief Minister who was at one time in charge of law and order in the Eastern Province adhered to the Police summons and presented himself accordingly. He was accompanied by a lawyer. The Police however took him into custody under a 72-hour detention order issued under the PTA.
After interrogation for three days the Police produced ex-Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan in courts for the first time on 14 October 2015. Media persons gathered around when a handcuffed ex-Chief Minister was led out by the Police. An unfazed Pillayan raised his manacled hands and told the photographers with a smile, “Nalla Padameduthu athai kondu poi TNA kaarangalitte Kaatungo. Avangalukku Santhoshamaayirukkum” (take a good picture and show the TNA fellows. They will be happy).Police sought more time to keep the suspect Pillayan in custody and question him further regarding the Pararajasingham murder.
Immediately after Pillayan’s detention, his political aides from the TMVP conducted media conferences to emphasise Chandrakanthan’s innocence and express the view that the ex-Chief Minister would soon be set free. TMVP Secretary P. Prashanthan made it a point then to insist that Pillayan’s arrest was not linked to the Joseph Pararajasingham assassination. Despite these denials the investigation proceeded steadily against Pillayan and other suspects.
Since Joseph Pararajasingham was a Member of Parliament at the time he was killed, the Police invoked the PTA to detain, investigate and interrogate suspects. The suspects including Pillayan were denied bail under the PTA. Pillaiaan mounted several legal challenges against his prolonged detention. His party activists kept accusing the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government of being in cahoots with the TNA led by R. Sampanthan and conducting a political vendetta against Pillayan. They charged that the case was a frame-up to keep Pillayan detained indefinitely.
Indictment After Protracted Investigation
After a protracted investigation, the Attorney General indicted Pillayan (who was 3rd accused) in October 2017 with six other persons in the High Court of Batticaloa for offences committed under Sections 32, 102, 113[b], 140 and 146 of the Penal Code read with Section 2[a] , 2[i] and 3[b] of the Prevention of Terrorism [Temporary Provisions] Act No. 48 of 1979 as amended by Act No. 10 of 1982 and Act No. 22 of 1988 in connection with the killing of former Member of Parliament for Batticaloa District Joseph Pararajasingham.
Among the Seven persons originally named in the indictment was a purported Indian intelligence operative called “Menon”. He was the 7th accused. However at the commencement of the trial , the State requested the court to remove the name of the seventh accused “Menon” from the indictment as there were no further details available regarding him other than a slight mention of his name in one of the two confessions.
With the deletion of Menon, the remaing six indicted were, Edward Silva Krishnanandaraja alias Pradeep Master, Rengasami Kanganayagam alias Kajan Maama, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, Meera Lebbe Kaleel alias Suresh alias Manjula alias Salaam, Ariyanayagam Dharmanayagam alias Olapatti Kumar and Gunasinghe Arachchige Tharindu Madusanka alias Vinoth. Of these Ariyanayagam Dharmanayagam and Tharindu Madushanka were tried in absentia. Subsequently it was established while the trial was in progress that Madushanka alias Vinoth was also dead. His name too was removed from the indictment.
The key element or mainstay of the prosecution’s case was the purported statements amounting to confessions made by Pradeep Master and Kajan Maamaa. Both the accused subsequently retracted their statements and said they had been procured through coercion. This led to a “Voir Dire”inquiry to ascertain the truth of these retractions and determine the admissibility or inadmissibility of the confessions. When the Voir Dire inquiry concluded ,the Batticaloa High Court ruled that the statements had been made voluntarily and therefore were admissible.
Court of Appeal Ruling
Thereafter the two accused filed petitions before the Court of Appeal challenging the decision.The legal team appearing on behalf of the petitioners reiterated the position that the confessions/statements were not admissible. After examining arguments by both sides the Appeal Court ruled that the confession was inadmissible. Media reports of the ruling are hazy but it appears that when the statement was originally made to Court, the Judge had told Pradeep Master in Tamil to keep in mind that his statement could be beneficial or detrimental to him. (“Nanmaiyum Nadakkalaam, Theemaiyum Nadakkalaam”). It was argued that this amounted to an “inducement or threat”. Therefore the confessions obtained under duress were not valid or admissible. The Appeal Court upheld this reasoning.
With the confession being deemed inadmissible by the Appeal Court, the Batticaloa Courts had to grant bail to the accused persons including Pillayan. It was granted on 24 November 2020 but a travel ban was imposed. However there was a pertinent question as to whether the Attorney General intended to proceed with the case or not. Time was granted by Courts to the AG to arrive at a decision. The AG informed Courts the next day that he intended proceeding with the case notwithstanding the Appeal Court ruling. A new date January 13 2021 was fixed.
On January 11th 2021 Deputy Solicitor -General Madhawa Tennakoon informed the Batticaloa High Court that the Attorney-General would not be proceeding with the case. It was a foregone conclusion after the invalidation of the “confessions”. Following this Batticaloa High Court Judge D.S. Soosaithasan acquitted all the accused including Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan on January 13th 2021. Pillayan returned home to his mother to celebrate the “Thai Pomgal” festival joyfully on Jan 14. The man kept in jail from October 2015 to November 2020 for five years under the PTA was a free man at last.
TMVP Leader Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan is being lionised after his release. He is going from village to village in Batticaloa to meet his party members and supporers. Whule thanking them for their solidarity and support Pillayan keeps reiterating his innocence and how attempts to penalize him unjustly were foiled.Pillayan was detained for five years under the draconian PTA which has been criticised on the grounds that it reverses the presumption of innocence until proven guilty principle to that of being presumed guilty unless proven innocent.
Pillayan’s stance has always been that he was innocent and that he was being framed for political reasons. His party the TMVP under the guidance of his loyal Deputy and Party Secretary Prashanthan had been intensely publicising this claim of innocence to the people of Batticaloa.The TMVP used the Pillayan card in election propaganda meetings. People were asked to vote for the TMVP to demonstrate their belief in Pillayan’s innocence. It was stated that a vote for the TMVP would strengthen the demand for his release.
When the Local Authority elections were held in February 2018, the TMVP contested eight Local Authorities. It polled 42,365 votes and obtained 36 seats in all.When Parliamentary Polls were held in August this year the TMVP contested Batticaloa District with the imprisoned Pillayan as chief candidate. The Tamil National Alliance contesting as the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) topped the district with 79,460(26.66%) votes. The TMVP came next with 67,692 (22.71%) votes. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan was elected MP polling the highest number of preferences – 54,198 in the district.
Thereafter Pillayan was appointed Co-chairperson of the Batticaloa District Coordinating Committee along with Eastern Province Governor Anuradha Yahampath. Until his release on bail, Pillayan obtained special permission from Courts to be allowed to attend Parliament as well as District Coordinating Committee meetings. Pillayan’s loyalists are optimistic about him getting a ministerial portfolio in the near future.
Pillayan’s Acquittal and Ranjan’s Conviction
It could be seen therefore that the acquittal of Pillayan and conviction of Ranjan are two unrelated matters. There is no connection except for the fact that the acquittal and conviction happened within 24 hours of each other. Puerile attempts to link both can only prove to be exercises in futility in the long run.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an Updated Version of an Article written for the DBS Jeyaraj Column in the “Daily Mirror” of January 23rd 2021. It can be accessed here: