The case of kidnapping 11 youths: What happens to the decision not to pursue the charges against Wasantha Karnagoda?

In 2008, 11 Tamil and Muslim youths living in Colombo and its suburbs were kidnapped for ransom.

After all three Attorney Generals had decided that the former Navy Commander Wasantha Karnagoda could be named as a defendant in the disappearance incident, it was problematic for the then Attorney General to not pursue the related charges against Wasantha Karnagoda after 2019 and advocated for the relatives of the disappeared. On May 13, he made a presentation when the case was called in view of the appeal.

The petition filed by the former Navy Commander Wasantha Karnagoda requesting to nullify the decision of the Attorney General to name him as a defendant in a case being heard before a three-judge bench of the Colombo High Court regarding the abduction and disappearance of 11 youths in Colombo and its suburbs in 2008 was called before the Court of Appeal. The lawyer mentioned this.

The relevant petition was called before Court of Appeal Judge Mohammad Lafar Tahir.

The Attorney General’s decision to not press charges

At that time, President’s Attorney Romesh De Silva, who appeared for the petitioner Wasantha Karnagoda, made his comments before the Court of Appeal.

“Sir, the Attorney General decided on August 8, 2021 not to continue the charge sheets filed against the former Navy Commander in relation to this incident. Accordingly, the Attorney General has informed the three-judge bench of the High Court hearing the case. Against my client “The Court of Appeal has already issued a restraining order suspending the proceedings before the Colombo High Court. If the Attorney General withdraws the charge sheet filed against my client from the High Court, a decision can be taken regarding not continuing this petition,” said Wasantha Karnagoda, who appeared for the petitioner. The lawyer said.

‘The change in the position of the Attorney General after 2019 is problematic’

Lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who represented the relatives of the missing youths, objected to this request of the petitioners.

“Sir, I strongly oppose this request. All three Attorney Generals had decided that the charges against the petitioner Mr. Wasantha Karnagoda could be maintained. But after 2019, the position of the Attorney General has changed. This is an unacceptable situation. Please be given the opportunity to present facts in this regard. I request,” lawyer Nuwan Bopage requested from the court.

Speaking at that time, Judge Lafar addressed the aggrieved party’s lawyer and said, “The Attorney General is empowered to file charges against a defendant. Accordingly, if the Attorney General decides not to pursue charges against a defendant, it is an admission that there is no real case against him.”

In that case, the judge asked the aggrieved party’s lawyer if there is any result in continuing this writ petition.

There is no decision from the High Court’

At that time, Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle, who appeared for the Attorney General, presented the following facts before the court.

“Sir, the decision taken by the Attorney General not to pursue the indictment against the petitioner has been communicated to the three-member High Court bench that is hearing the case. However, the concerned bench has not yet issued any orders regarding the position of the Attorney General.”

President’s lawyer Romesh de Silva, who appeared for Wasantha Karnagoda, requested the court to give two weeks’ time to notify the decision to be taken regarding this petition, and the petitioner party continues to point out the facts and tries to continue this petition and is strongly against it. Nuwan Bopage, the lawyer of the aggrieved party, stated again before the court. Lawyer Bopage further said that injustice will be done to the aggrieved parties and justice will be delayed for them.

Judge Lafar pointed out to the aggrieved party’s lawyer, ‘Will the petition continue? Or will the petitioner be withdrawn until the 3rd of June to decide?

The judge stated in the open court that if the petitioner does not give a decision in this regard by that date, he will proceed to give a decision on the petition.

‘For 15 years, we have been going to court to get this justice in tears’

The mother of one of the 11 missing youths related to this case commented to BBC Sinhala. Jennifer Weerasinghe was just 24 years old when her son disappeared, and five young men, including her son, were abducted together.

“There is clear evidence related to the incident in which five children including my child were kidnapped. It was not us who leveled these charges against Wasantha Karnagoda, but the Attorney General’s Department. Similarly, the investigations were conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department. When we go to the May 13 case, the Attorney General who is supposed to represent us is representing the accused. That’s what we felt,” she says.

She asks how they can believe that justice will be done in the case when they cannot trust the Attorney General. “A total of 667 charges and 200 witnesses have been presented to the court. We have been going to the courts for 15 years to get justice.”

“If Vasantha Karnagoda is not really involved in this incident, he can come to the court like a good gentleman and prove his innocence. But as a mother who lost her child in this way by filing petitions and dragging them out, I also think that he has blood on his hands,” said Jennifer.

“Now, his lawyers said in the court that day that they will discuss with the client and inform the court whether they will withdraw this writ petition. So why did this case drag on for four years? Didn’t the Attorney General make the indictments knowingly? Who is responsible for our tears? Who Justice for us?”

Jennifer said that she hopes that she and the other children’s parents will get a just decision as victims on June 3rd.

“On June 03, we hope that the Attorney General will take the right decision to represent us. We can only trust the court now. Therefore, we hope that justice will be done for the tears we shed for 15 years through the court.”

In relation to the kidnapping and disappearance of 11 Tamil and Muslim youths living in Colombo and its suburbs in 2008, the Attorney General filed a case before a three-judge bench of the Colombo High Court against 14 people including Navy Intelligence officers during the previous Good Governance government.

Former Navy Commander Wasantha Karnagoda was named as the 14th defendant in the case, and DKP Dasanayake, a former media spokesperson of the Navy, was also named as a defendant.