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Tamilnation > Tamilnation Library> Eelam Section > Assassination of a Prime Minister: The Bandaranaike Murder Case - Lucian G. Weeramantry


  •  Assassination of a Prime Minister: The Bandaranaike Murder Case - Lucian G. WeeramantryAssassination of a Prime Minister
    The Bandaranaike Murder Case

Lucian G. Weeramantry
Published 1969

  • ISBN-10: 0853210039
    ISBN-13: 978-0853210030

[see also The King Maker & the Errand Boy - Excerpts from the Concluding Address by Nadesan Satyendra, Counsel for the 5th Accused, Inspector Newton Perera in the Bandaranaike Assassination Case, and

Sachi Sri Kantha: S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Assassination - Revisited after 50 years: part 1: Politics - part 2: Forensics - Part 3: Theatrics and Economics

About the Author - About the Book - The Verdict: Concluding Chapter

About the Author: Lucian G. Weeramantry, born 1923 in Colombo, was called to the Ceylon Bar in 1946 and practised as an Advocate till 1962. He is also a Barrister-at-Law of Gray's Inn and an Honours Graduate in History of the University of London. He represented his country at several international governmental and non-governmental conferences. He is now (1969) Senior Legal Officer of the International Commission of Jurists, which has its headquarters in Geneva. Author of several articles on legal topics, he also edits the Digest of Judicial Decisions on Aspects of the Rule of Law, which has been a regular feature of the Journal of the International Commission of Jurists.

About the Book: It is rarely that persons accused of assassinating or conspiring to assassinate a high political personage, let alone a Prime Minister, have been given the benefit of a full and fair trial conforming to the established canons of judicial procedure. It is rarer still to find a trial that discloses a story so full of intrigue, mystery and doubt and so packed with facts more improbable than fiction.

It is doubtless a credit to the administration of justice in Ceylon that persons accused of a crime of this nature could expect the same sort of trial as a person accused of a crime against an ordinary citizen, and that it was possible for lawyers to appear for the accused and to argue the points in their favour without fear of political or professional consequences.

This book is written in such a manner as to highlight the sensational features of the story of Bandaranaike's assassination as unfolded by the witnesses and to hold the reader's interest to the end. As it caters to the general reader and not only to lawyers, it has been divested of all legal technicalities, except such as are essential to follow developments at the trial of the five accused before the Supreme Court of Ceylon.

The accused presented a curious combination. The first was a high priest, the second a politician, the third a motor mechanic cum actor, the fourth, whom the author defended, a Buddhist monk and the fifth an inspector of police. The lady Minister of Health in the Bandaranaike Cabinet, who had been the sixth accused at the magisterial inquiry, was discharged before the trial.

The trial lasted nearly three months, 97 witnesses were heard and the proceedings ran into over 3500 pages of typescript.

The book, which consists of 44 chapters and 312 pages, opens with the scene at the Prime Minister's residence on the morning of September 25th, 1959, the day on which Mr. Bandaranaike was shot. Chapter 2 gives the reader a character sketch of Mr. Bandaranaike, drawn against the political, social and economic background of Ceylon. The succeeding chapters deal with the gripping story of the conspiracy and the shooting as told in Court, while the final chapters are devoted to the addresses of counsel, the judge's charge and the jury's verdict.

The Verdict - Concluding Chapter

Never in its history had the precincts of the Supreme Court witnessed such crowds as it did on May 10th, 1961, the day of the verdict, and on the two days thereafter, when the Court sat listening to the final statements of the accused. From far and near people came in thousands to witness the outcome of a case, which had been the most interesting topic of discussion in the country for several months. Unable to find standing accommodation in the Court or even in its spacious corridors, they filled the court gardens and the streets around. The scores of policemen on duty had no easy task controlling the immense crowd.

The jury had retired at 12.10 p.m. For the countless numbers that stayed on, foregoing even their lunch for fear of losing their vantage positions in the courtroom or in the corridors, it was a long wait indeed for the jury's return. The courtroom was filled with whispered exchanges of views on the possible verdicts. Three full hours of suspense passed by with no indication as to when the jury was likely to conclude its deliberations. Then, suddenly, there was an announcement that the jury was ready to return. Soon afterwards, the jurymen were seen walking up in single file behind the mace-bearer along the verandah leading from their secret chamber to the Court. As they re-occupied their seats one by one in the jury box, everybody seemed to be studying the faces of the seven men, who were to make known in a moment the fate which their decisions had ordained for the five men in the dock.

It was all attention in the re-assembled Court when, in reply to the Clerk of Assize, the Foreman of the Jury announced that the jury were unanimously agreed upon their verdicts in respect of Rev. Buddharakkitha, the first accused; H. P. Jayawardena, the second accused; Anura de Silva, the third accused; and Rev. Somarama, the fourth accused. They were, however divided in their verdict in respect of Newton Perera, the fifth accused.

By their unanimous verdict, said the foreman, they found Buddharakkitha, Jayawardena and Somarama guilty of the offence of conspiracy to murder and found Somarama guilty in addition of the offence of murder.

By their unanimous verdict they found Anura de Silva not guilty of any offence. By a divided verdict of 5 to 2, they found Newton Perera not guilty of any offence.

After the foreman had signed the verdict of the jury, His Lordship addressed the accused as follows:

" You, Mapitigama Buddharakkitha, by the unanimous verdict of the jury, have been found guilty of conspiring to kill Mr. Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister, in pursuance of which conspiracy the jury holds that this murder was committed. I do not wish to harrow your feelings any further than to say that, being a Buddhist myself, I never thought I would have to perform the painful task of passing sentence of death upon a Buddhist monk. The verdict of the jury carries with it its own condemnation. Apart from the enormity of the crime you have committed, you have by your conduct defiled a most sacred place of worship, the Kelaniya Temple, and I feel that the jury must have believed the claim of the prosecution that you were the chief architect of this terrible crime. Even at the risk of telling my fellow Buddhists something that must be quite apparent to them, let me say that you stand convicted by the unanimous verdict of your fellowmen of breaking the first precept of your religion in an awful fashion, a precept which you undertook to guard and honour when you first put on that hallowed robe.

" You, H. P. Jayawardena, have just heard the unanimous verdict of the jury that you too were a party to the conspiracy, which sent a man so beloved by his people to an untimely end. There is nothing further that I need to say to you.

" You, Anura de Silva, have just heard from the foreman's lips that you have not been proved guilty of the crime with which you are charged and, in accordance with our law, you are hereby acquitted and discharged. But in leaving that dock, please remember that it will be advisable for you to keep henceforth the company of people of your own status in life. You may go now.

" You, Talduwa Somarama, have also heard the verdict of the jury. You, who appear to have been the instrument of the conspirators, wore a hallowed robe yourself at the time of the commission of this crime. There appears to be some streak of conscience left in you because, unlike Buddharakkitha, you did not appear in this Court in your robes. You have been defended by counsel, who has throughout these long and arduous proceedings exhibited towards your case a devotion which has been the admiration of everyone in this Court. But having regard to the strength of the evidence against you, there has been, in my view, no counsel yet born who could have saved you.

" By a divided verdict the jury has found you, Newton Perera, not guilty. You owe your life to the labours of your counsel. You, on your own showing, are guilty of conduct unworthy of a police officer. You should not disgrace the police force by remaining in it a second longer. You are acquitted and discharged and you may leave the Court.

" Having regard to the verdict against you, Mapitigama Buddharakkitha, the sentence to be passed is not in my discretion, but is fixed unalterably by the law. That sentence is the sentence of death. But the law requires, before pronouncing that sentence on you, that I ask you at this stage whether you have anything to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced against you. If you choose to say anything now, it will be recorded and forwarded to His Excellency the Governor-General, in whom the prerogative of mercy is vested. But whatever you say will not enable me to stay the pronouncement of the sentence. "

Buddharakkitha: " Can I make a very long statement at this stage ? "

Court : " You have the right to make a statement at this stage and you can take as much time as you wish to in exercising that right. "

Buddharakkitha then made a lengthy statement protesting his innocence. He said that, at the time this murder was committed, he had a large number of enemies and opponents in the country, particularly the leaders of the leftist parties. He was the object of jealousy and hatred on account of the power and influence he wielded. Far from having been the architect of a conspiracy, he had been the unfortunate victim of one. He then plunged into a detailed analysis of the personal and political motives which, according to him, prompted various powerful  persons and groups in the country to conspire against him and concluded, " These conspirators have achieved their purpose. Let them rejoice. Time will bring justice. Let us see what the future holds. I thank Your Lordship for listening to what I have had to say. "

Jayawardena, when similarly addressed by Court, made an even longer statement than Buddharakkitha, proclaiming his innocence. Beginning late in the afternoon of May 10th, he concluded only in the afternoon of May 12th.

Somarama began his statement by thanking the lawyers who appeared for him in the lower Court and at the trial and continued: "I am not a person who joined any political party. I joined the clergy and have acted throughout my life in accordance with law and order, righteousness and truth. I declare in this Court that I am not guilty. I did not shoot the Prime Minister. I wish to say that I for my part have not done anything unworthy of the robes I wore. My final prayer is that all those present here today be blest with happiness and that the guardian deities protect them from pain of mind and body. I pray that Your Lordship particularly may receive their protection. "

For a few long minutes after Somarama had concluded, court officials busied themselves with certain preliminaries which had to be attended to before the awful moment of sentence was reached. These over, the voice of the court crier boomed through the large courtroom, calling everyone to attention in a single mandatory word, " Silence ". Mr. Justice Fernando donned a black cap over his grey wig and rose grimly to his feet, followed by the jury, the lawyers and the public. Then, in the breathless silence of an overcrowded Court, His Lordship solemnly passed sentence of death on the first, second and fourth accused in turn.'

He then resumed his seat, paused for a while, and turning to the jury, said, " Gentlemen of the jury, that brings your labours to an end. On behalf of the Dominion of Ceylon, I thank you and to these thanks I should like to add my own. "

As jailors and guards led the three manacled men through the surging crowd to the prisons van, the curtain fell on one of the most celebrated criminal trials which the world has witnessed in recent times.

1 The Court of Criminal Appeal of Ceylon, consisting of the Chief Justice, the Hon. Hema H. Basnayake, and four other Judges, altered the sentences of death passed on Buddharakkitha and Jayawardena to sentences of life imprisonment, having accepted the argument of their senior counsel, Mr. Guy Wikramanayake Q.C., that the Act which re-introduced the death penalty for murder did not in specific terms re-introduce that penalty for conspiracy to commit murder as well. In the final appeal before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Mr. Dingle Foot Q.C., now Sir Dingle Foot, appeared for Somarama. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council affirmed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal of Ceylon.



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