by Maneshka Borham
In many ways, last Thursday, June 14 was an extraordinary day.
Controversial Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, the firebrand monk who has been the face of fear-mongering and hate speech against minority communities living in Sri Lanka over the past six years, strolled into the Homagama Magistrate’s Court with dozens of young Buddhist monks in tow, crowing that he would continue to serve the country. He was at the suburban courtroom to be sentenced for the crime of intimidating Sandhya Ekneligoda, the wife of missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda within the precincts of that same court-house in January 2016.
The Homagama magistrate delivered the guilty verdict last month.
But as the sentencing concluded last Thursday, Gnanasara Thera’s bravado appeared to fail. The magistrate sentenced the BBS general secretary to six months rigorous imprisonment for each of his two convictions, to be served concurrently, meaning that the monk would complete both sentences within six months provided he behaved himself in prison. If not, the sentence would be extended by three months. The monk was also ordered to pay Rs 50,000 as compensation to Sandhya Ekneligoda subject to a further Rs 3,000 fine.
At first, the monk looked taken aback by the sentence delivered by Magistrate Udesh Ranatunge – but only for a moment.
Minutes later he was on his feet, ignoring the pleas of his lawyer as he launched into a familiar tirade that questioned both the magistrate’s integrity and his sentence.
In stark contrast, his victim, Sandhya Ekneligoda, wearing a simple white Kandyan sari at the other end of the crowded court room, stood calm and stoic, a smile lingering on her lips and a look on her face that showed she knew she had won this round.
On this day proving that not even a member of clergy could get away by intimidating a witness or victim to a crime especially within a court, Homagama Magistrate Udesh Ranatunge made an example out of the case.
In a court system which rarely convicts clergy, Thursday’s ruling was monumental, with legal experts claiming it may set precedence for similar cases in the future to ensure protection of witnesses and victims of crime.
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