Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court invalidated on Wednesday, for the first time ever, a presidential pardon to former member of Parliament Duminda Silva. In a unanimous ruling, the court found that there was “no legal basis or even a factual basis to uphold the decision made by” former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pardon Silva.
Silva and four others were convicted in 2016 by the High Court for the murder of politician Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and were sentenced to death. Sri Lanka’s last capital punishment execution took place in 1976. Although death sentences remain on the books, the government has yet to carry out an execution since 1976 because a moratorium on the death penalty continues to remain in place.
Following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory in 2019, the new administration established a Presidential Commission to investigate political victimization. This commission recommended the release of Silva. This led Rajapaksa to issue a special pardon to Silva in June 2021.
The legality of this special pardon came under scrutiny through three fundamental rights petitions filed with the Supreme Court. The court acknowledged these challenges, and in May 2022, Silva was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). This only occurred after the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with the case and suspended Silva’s special pardon.
In the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on Wednesday, the court declared:
I have no legal basis or even a factual basis to uphold the decision made by the former President to grant a pardon to the recipient in the instant case. I hold that the said decision is arbitrary, irrational and has been made for the reasons best known to the former President.
Member of Parliament M.A. Sumanthiran highlighted the significance of this ruling, stating that the ruling is seen as a welcome development, especially with other pending challenges presidential pardons. Among these challenged pardons is the one given to Sunil Ratnayake, the individual responsible for the Mirusuvil massacre.