By Chitra Weerarathne
Counsel J. C. Weliamuna yesterday told the Supreme Court that his client, Naomi Michelle Coleman, had been illegally arrested, detained, and unlawfully deported soon after her arrival in Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2014.
Weliamuna made the aforesaid observation when the fundamental rights violation petition filed by Naomi Michelle Coleman of United Kingdom, who had visited Sri Lanka on April 21, 2014, was argued in the Supreme Court.
The petitioner has complained that she was unlawfully arrested by the Katunayake Police for having had a tattoo of the Buddha on her upper arm. She has said that she had it for reasons of religious faith and not with any intention of enraging religious feelings. She was produced before the Negombo Magistrate, detained unlawfully at the Negombo Prison and at the Mirihana Detention Centre. The Magistrate ordered her deportation to the UK.
The petition has said that the deportation was a matter for the minister concerned only and not for the Magistrate’s court. The petitioner has claimed unlawful arrest, detention and inequality before the law. She has claimed Rs. 10 million in damages.
The Additional Solicitor General Jayantha Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel who appeared for the respondents said that people at the airport had warned her that she might have problems because of the tattoo. It was not the police who approached her first. A civilian informed two police officers on duty of her tattoo. That could have led to public unrest. The police officers on duty might have feared hostile action towards the petitioner by the public, the Additional Solicitor General said.
The police had no intention to harass the petitioner. There was no allegation that the police officers on duty harassed her. If she had been allowed to leave and tour the country she would have been exposed to public ridicule. She had said she was a devoted Buddhist, but the extent of her devotion was not known, the ASG argued.
Among the respondents are two officers of the Katunayake police station, the OIC of the Negombo police station, the IGP and the Commissioner General of Immigration and Emigration.
The ASG said that the petitioner had not made initial complaints to the British High Commission against the officers who arrested her.
Even though the petitioner’s movements were curtailed, the police officer had acted in good faith. The officers of the Tourist Board had tendered an unqualified apology to her, he said.
She had been given a business class ticket back to UK. She had accepted that and made use of it prior to filing the petition. The version of the respondents was more credible. Tattoos were meant to be seen, ASG Jayasuriya asserted.
J. C. Weliamuna appeared with Pulsith Hewamanna, Thishya Weragoda, Hafeel Farisz and Vishva de Livera Tennekoon for the petitioner as public interest litigation.
Jayantha Jayasuriya, Additional Solicitor General, PC, appeared with Deputy Solicitor General, Parinda Ranasinghe for the respondents.
The bench comprised the acting Chief Justice Chandra Ekanayake, Justice Priyasarth Dep and Justice Sisira de Abrew.
The Supreme Court gave parties one month to file written submission. Judgment was reserved.