- Sumana Thera had extended his support to Sarath Fonseka in 2010 Presidential elections
- He was arrested few days prior to the election for being in possession of illegal firearms and ammo
- Two firearms were traced to LTTE weapons seized by the STF
- In June 2020 was sentenced to a rigorous life imprisonment after being found guilty
In the photograph a masked Buddhist monk led by two prison officials gives the camera a ‘victory sign’ as he walks out of the Colombo High Court. The powerful and prominent Buddhist monk, the Chief incumbent of the Maligawatta Sri Boghirajarama Vihara, Uvatenne Sumana Thera, had just been sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment on June, 2020 after being found guilty on an illegal firearms charge after a lengthy legal process.
But he would only serve just six months of a lifelong sentence as he was granted a Presidential pardon by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (03). In a matter of days Sumana Thera will walk free on the condition that he would withdraw the appeal submitted against the High Court’s verdict.
Who is Uvatenne Sumana Thera?
Uvatenne Sumana Thera is the Chief incumbent of the Maligawatta Sri Bodhirajarama Vihara. A prominent Buddhist monk, and known in the political circles of the country, he was once a supporter as well as an advisor to former President and current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The thero was also the general secretary of Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) Bhikku Federation and the Chairman of the Patriotic National Force.
Sumana Thera had actively engaged in politics and worked towards the victory of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government in 2004 and of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President in 2005.
But in 2010, Sumana thera fell foul of the government when he decided to extend his support to the main opponent of Rajapaksa and the common candidate in the Presidential election, former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.
Why was he arrested?
While Sumana thera was vocal about his support of Fonseka and change in allegiance, just a matter of days before the Presidential election, the Special Task Force (STF) and sleuths from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) descended on the Sri Bodhirajarama Vihara.
According to the Police then, the ensuing raid had allegedly uncovered two T-56 firearms, 50 hand grenades and 210 live ammunitions hidden within the temple premises. Uvatenne Sumana Thera at the time accused the Police of having no respect for the temple or the monk as they searched the temple.
The thera had told his lawyer that the Police had used foul language on him and thrown relics as well as religious books while carrying out the raid. On January 23, 2010 Uwatenne Sumana Thera was detained by the CID on suspicion of keeping weapons and ammunition in his temple. His counsel continued to maintain that the Police had arrested the powerful monk to take revenge against his support to Fonseka.
Also charged along with the thera for the case were P. Rajabalan, K. Thamil Chelvan and Sandeepan Subraniam, who were alleged to be supporters of the Karuna faction and Mawalathenne Sumedha Thera.
But the origins of the weapons found continues to be perplexing. According to reports during the last stages of the war the STF had raided an LTTE camp in the Badamassawa area in the Ampara District and seized a large quantity of weapons. The weapons seized had been listed by the STF. A special investigation by the CID revealed that the serial numbers of the two firearms seized from the Sri Bodhirajarama Vihara had matched those of two firearms found at the Badamassawa LTTE camp.
As the case continued to be heard, the three suspects of the Karuna faction were acquitted after the judge accepted the Attorney General’s notice on June 24, 2018 that the case against the three suspects would not be continued. The court at a later date ordered the acquittal of the accused Mawalathenne Sumedha Thera leaving Sumana Thera to face all charges alone.
As a result on June 1, 2020 the thera was found guilty and convicted by Colombo High Court judge Adithya Patabandige. The court said the charge against the monk for holding two T-56 firearms in his possession illegally had been proven beyond reasonable doubt. But the charges for allegedly holding 50 hand grenades and 210 live ammunition were dropped and he was acquitted from both charges. The court on the day sentenced Sumana Thera to life in prison.
Sumana Thera, who was arrested by the Rajapaksa regime in 2010, was again imprisoned for life under yet another the Rajapaksa regime in 2020 making him the lone convict in a case which included four other suspects.
How he received the Presidential pardon
MP Diana Gamage, who recently defected to the government from the opposition, has now claimed the honour of securing the pardon for Sumana Thera. According to her, she had made the request for the monks pardon from both the President and the Prime Minister at the behest of Sumana Thera’s mother. “As a mother myself, I could see her pain,” Gamage said, adding that her efforts have now come to fruition.
While Sumana Thera has now escaped a life of imprisonment, however his pardon has also raised questions about who in fact should be granted such special pardons. According to Attorney-at-Law Nirupa Serasinghe the Presidential pardon process of Sri Lanka after 1978 is an insult to the entire judicial process.
According to Serasinghe through S.B Dissanayake, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, Jude Shramantha Jayamaha, Sunil Ratnayake to Sumana Thera today, it is evident that each suspect pardoned by a Sri Lankan President was either convicted of rape, contempt of court, murder or possession of a firearm. “Then why does a President pardon these people. All these stories are political” she said.