Resignation and flight of Sri Lanka judge sparks concern over nation’s judicial independence News
Mahimsan. CC BY-SA 4.0,via Wikimedia Commons
Resignation and flight of Sri Lanka judge sparks concern over nation’s judicial independence

The resignation letter of Sri Lankan Judge T. Saravanaraja emerged online Thursday, with media reports saying the judge fled the country. In the letter, addressed to the Secretary of Sri Lanka’s Judicial Services Commission, Judge Saravanaraja cited the “threat of my life and … [a] lot of stress” as the reasons for his decision to step down. Saravanaraja was a judge in the Mullaitivu district of Sri Lanka’s Northern province.

Notably, Saravanaraja had recently presided over two significant cases. The first case involved a dispute over a religious site, Kurunthurmalai, an ancient Tamil temple site located within the Thannimurippu area of the Mullaitivu district, after members of the majority Sinhala Buddhist community occupied the religious site from Hindu worshippers. Much to the anger of the Sinhala Buddhist community, Saravanaraja ordered the removal of recently erected structures, including an unlawfully constructed Buddhist shrine situated atop Kurunthurmalai. The second case pertained to the Sri Lankan government’s stifling of a memorial event honoring a deceased member of the Tamil separatist rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Additionally, in July 2023, Saravanaraja ordered excavations at a mass grave site in Kokkuthoduvai, adding to the growing list of sensitive issues in the region.

The circumstances surrounding Saravanaraja’s resignation have raised questions about the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka. Several legal and political figures have voiced their concerns about the pressure exerted on the judiciary and its potential impact on judicial autonomy.

Saravanaraja alleged that the Attorney General of Sri Lanka invited him to his office on September 21 and, during that meeting, compelled him to reverse his order in the Kurunthurmalai case. Furthermore, Saravanaraja claimed that Sri Lankan Members of Parliament, such as former Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera and other politicians within the Sinhala Buddhist community, threatened his life. The judge also said that his police protection presence had been reduced while intelligence officers continue to surveil him. Lastly, the judge stated that two cases were filed against him personally in Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeals in connection to his decision on the Kurunthurmalai case.

Former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka Saliya Pieris, speaking to The Hindu, cited threats against Supreme Court Judges and Parliamentary criticism of specific cases that have emerged since Ranil Wickremesinghe took office as Sri Lanka’s president, suggesting that judicial independence is under threat in the country.