By Asiri Fernando
Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen’s absence in Parliament yesterday sparked heated debate in the House, with Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Rtd) Sarath Weerasekara requesting that the Speaker not allow his presence, which was subsequently met with heated arguments from the Opposition.
Public Security Minister Weerasekera asked the Speaker not to allow anyone being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to enter Parliament until relevant investigations had been concluded.
MP Weerasekara’s request came following a request by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, asking the Speaker to ensure MP Bathiudeen’s Parliamentary rights and privileges be protected and that relevant authorities be directed to let him attend Parliament.
The Public Security Minister’s request drew strong criticism from Opposition MPs, who argued that MP Bathiudeen’s rights as a Parliamentarian and a leader of a political party were being suppressed by the request.
MP Bathiudeen was expected in Parliament this week after the Speaker had informed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to allow him to attend Parliamentary sessions.
Addressing the press, the Public Security Minister opined that if MP Bathiudeen made any statement in Parliament concerning the ongoing investigations using Parliamentary privileges, it may hinder the investigations and allow others, who may be arrested in the future, to evade arrest.
“He is being held on detention orders under the PTA. If he makes any statements, it may have an impact on the investigations. Such statements can harm the investigation and may allow other persons under investigation to evade arrests. Therefore, I am requesting the Speaker not to allow anyone held under the PTA to be allowed into Parliament, until the investigations are concluded,” MP Weerasekara said.
However, Attorney General (AG) Dappula De Livera has informed the CID that there is no legal impediment in facilitating MP Rishad Bathiudeen to attend Parliament sessions. According to the Coordinating Officer to the AG, State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne, the AG had informed the Director of the CID of his opinion following a consultation by the law enforcement agency on the matter of facilitating MP Bathiudeen’s presence in Parliament.
Bathiudeen and his brother Riyaj were arrested on 24 April by the CID on the charges of aiding and abetting the suicide bombers responsible for the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. The CID also obtained a 90-day detention order under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to detain and question the Bathiudeen brothers.
Bathiudeen’s family and party members have voiced concerns regarding the arrests, calling it unjust and pointing out that the Parliamentarian was cleared of similar charges in a 2020 CID investigation. The Opposition has labelled his arrest a witch hunt.