Friday, November 22, 2013

Sri Lanka: Political Clout Alleged in Delay of Murder of British Tourist, Rape of Russian Girlfriend

According to The Business Standard and The Guardian, twelve defendants, including a leader of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance, are set to face trial in Colombo for the murder of a British tourist Khuram Shaikh, 32, and the rape of the Shaikh's Russian girlfriend, Victoria Alexandrovna, 23, on Christmas Eve, 2011.

Even though the defendants have been accused of witness tampering, the Office of the Attorney General has transferred the prosecution from Tangalle to Colombo amidst allegations of delays due to political influence. 

Yet, The High Court has directed that the trial begin on December 2, 2013, a trial that no doubt will be followed very carefully in both London and Moscow.

The British government had been pressuring Sri Lanka for faster legal proceedings since 2011, to no avail.  Both British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles have raised the issue with Sri Lankan authorities during last week's CHOGM summit. 

COMMENT: The twelve defendants have all pleaded not guilty and are free on bond, to no one's surprise.

It is believed that Shaikh was attacked while trying to protect her from a group of men who were sexually harassing Ms.
Alexandrovna. Shaikh was shot and stabbed while his girlfriend was beaten unconscious and raped.

The case has been dogged by rumors of a cover-up after it emerged that one of the alleged attackers was a local politician with close ties to the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Despite DNA evidence said to link the accused to the crime scene, the legal process has dragged on for almost two years, underlining concerns about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, which is under intense international scrutiny.

Suhada Gamalath, an additional solicitor general, told THE GUARDIAN that the Sri Lankan attorney general had taken the unusual step of sending a direct indictment to the high court on Thursday (November 21) to expedite what he called "a terrible case."

The indictment against the defendants means that preliminary inquiries can be dispensed with and the case sent straight to the high court in Colombo.

The case was transferred to Colombo by the country's Attorney General after the alleged eight assailants have been accused of witness tampering.

As I have said previously over the years, it is essential that foreign travelers take every step possible to avoid disputes, disagreements and arguments with locals, as it can take years to successfully adjudicate such conflicts through foreign courts, particularly when the assailants have political clout.

Notwithstanding, Shaikh seemingly had few options available to himself other than coming to Alexandrovna's aid.

For the benefit of our readers, the underlying message in this case is that justice in Sri Lanka is elusive and hardly blind, particularly when the assailants have political influence. The message to foreigners apparently is: "Go away." 

Needless to say, we will carefully update our readers on the progress of the December 2 trial.