War crimes: Pandemonium in parliament over ‘hybrid court’
By Saman Indrajith
Pandemonium reigned in Parliament yesterday following a protest mounted by opposition MPs inside the Chamber against the alleged moves to set up a hybrid court to prosecute the military personnel who crushed terrorism. The rumpus led to the suspension of sittings for ten minutes.
When Parliament commenced notice of motions and orders of the day, NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa sprang to his feet, claiming that the government had promised during the previous sittings to allocate time for a debate demanded by the Opposition on the recent UNHRC report and resolution against Sri Lanka, but the promised debate had not been included in the list of scheduled business in Parliament for this week. The MP demanded to know why the government had reneged on its promise and when the time would be allocated for the debate which was of utmost importance.
Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella: We have discussed the matter at party leaders’ meeting. The Prime Minister agreed to give a debate. The other matter is that there was no mentioning of the hybrid court in the resolution. This is how you interpret the issue. Now, we have our former President in front of us. We could ask him. Is there any reference to a hybrid court in the resolution? I am asking from the former president.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa seated in the front row of the Opposition waved down the request smilingly
At this point UPFA Opposition MPs Jayantha Samaraweera, Sisira Jayakody, Weerakumara Dissanayake, Niroshan Premaratne took out a huge banner and displayed it from the opposition benches. The government members shouted at them regarding the banner which said ‘Reject the hybrid court that targets war heroes!’ MP Lohan Ratwatte, too, walked up to his colleagues holding the banner to pledge solidarity with them. Former president Rajapaksa, MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, NLF leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara observed the protest from their chairs.
Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala called upon the MPs to take their seats and let the House proceed with its programme.
Minister Rauf Hakeem: We know that MP Weerawansa is good at protests. We remember how he staged a fast unto-death protest opposite the Colombo office of the UN in the past when an issue similar to this came up. Now he was seen capturing visuals of today’s protest with the camera on his mobile phone. He is seeking cheap publicity! That does not matter. The problem is that this can lead to prohibiting us bringing mobile phones to this chamber. The end result will be the curtailment of our rights.
As MPs from both sides shouted at each other, the Deputy Speaker called on them to be silent.
MP Weerawansa: I did not meet Prabhakaran. I did not take money from him. Those who met Prabahakaran and took money may be disturbed when we protest against hybrid court. Do not betray the national interests.
Deputy Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe: This august assembly is maintained according to the Standing Orders and traditions. One should not be permitted to come out with assumptions and suppositions and waste the time of Parliament for cheap publicity. MP Weerawansa should not be permitted to act in this manner.
Leader of the House: Do we permit this?
Deputy Speaker Sumathipala: The MPs standing up please be seated. The four MPs holding the banner should end the protest.
At this moment the MPs holding the banner marched to the Well of the House. UNP MPs Palitha Thevarapperuma and Nalin Bandara from the government side approached the protesting opposition MPs and tried to grasp the banner. As the situation turned violent Sergeant-At-Arms Anil Parakrama Samarasekera, Deputy Sergeant-At-Arms Narendra Fernando, Assistant Sergeant-At-Arms Kushan Jayaratne, UPFA MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage rushed to the scene and stood between the protesting MPs and their suppressors to prevent a clash. They tried to separate the two groups.
As the situation turned tense with MPs from both sides of the well shouting louder and louder, Deputy Speaker Sumathipala suspended the sittings for ten minutes.
Thereafter MP Mahinda Rajapaksa left the chamber. Sergeant-At-Arms Samarasekera took the banner into his custody and took it away.
Sittings resumed around 1.55 pm and the proceedings listed on the order paper continued.