On the 19th of November 2019, the rather elongated case of the Sri Lankan Brigadier Priyanka Fernando took place at Westminster Magistrates. This case a unique – one of its kind in that – a diplomat is being charged for offenses committed on foreign soil whilst being on a diplomatic mission. This has somewhat rattled the establishments from Westminster – all the way to the Foreign and Commonwealth office to the Sri Lankan High Commission.
The trial resumed with the last witness giving evidence against the Brigadier. Both the prosecution and the defense barrister had tried to establish various factors that revolved around the offense committed by the Brigadier all the way into how the witness felt after the incident to this present time. The defense barrister’s questions revolved around whether the witness felt threatened for his life or not. Other questions laid out by the defense such as “why did you attend this demonstration when you know your pictures will be taken”- pointed out nothing but the obvious; activists and protesters are all being subject to surveillance on British soil. The questions posed by the defense lingered over the fact that the witness put himself in a precarious position by attending the protest.
What is more startling is the apprehensive nature of the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police have shown in this case. It had to take a private prosecution to attain justice for the common man of Great Britain. Several activists outside the court and inside the court shared their views as to why the CPS or the police may have taken this case quite lightly without understanding the magnitude and the precedence it might create in the future for diplomats hiding behind the defense of diplomatic immunity. Several onlookers and pedestrians stopped by to show their support.
Those who are linked to Sri Lankan High Commission including the Winoma Collum Hawcroft, who was previously warned by the Judge and court staff in taking pictures of activists both inside and outside the court were present at the public gallery to show their support for the Brigadier. A British Conservative politician also gave evidence defending Sri Lankan Brigadier action. He mentioned that the LTTE leader’s name was chanted by the protestors on that day as it was a crime to justify the death threat given to the protesters.
He is also not able to distinguish between an LTTE flag and the Tamil’s National flag as he rambled his words into saying that the protesters on the 4th of February 2018 were all carrying terrorist flags. The prosecution then had to explain that the flag is not a terrorist article and went further to ask why he deemed it as a proscribed article. The learned conservative witness explained that the LTTE flag is of dark red whilst the Tamil national flag is of light red. The public gallery burst out with laughter. Sheer ignorance or vested political interest? You can be the judge of that.
The prosecution in his summing up mentioned that the brigadier has diplomatic immunity if the throat-cutting gesture is part of his job role but it is not. The prosecution also went on to mention that the defense has also failed to provide any unused materials in this retrial especially on the extent of time granted to the defense, there was no challenge to the action, no justifications for the actions were provided, there were no proscribed articles on that day and there is no reason to believe why the police or the organisers of this event had not implemented this protest properly.
Regardless of numerous pictures and Video evidence that portrays the army officer gesturing a death threat is a matter that simply cannot be ignored. A case that in all reality should have been taken by the CPS was outrightly ignored, the police were apprehensive taking in complaints instead the victims had to take the root of private prosecution, even after an initial guilty verdict the case was thrown out and a fresh retrial was directed -the early intervention of the FCO in running to the aid of the death threat Brigadier, and the list of repetitive questions formulated by the defense to catch witnesses out even though other evidence points the obvious; it is quite clear that Tamils activists, protestors and diasporas, in general, have an upheaval battle in attaining justice even in the United Kingdom.
The Judge who hoped to give a verdict at 4.15 pm on the 19th of November 2019 has adjourned the case to the 6th of December 2019. It is in our right to stand up for our rights, it is in our interest to attain justice because if we don’t incidents such as these will be a common occurrence.