People in the streets to mark the justice system's 'black Friday'
by Melani Manel Perera
After a sham impeachment process, parliament votes a motion against Supreme Court Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. President Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to replace her with one of his cronies. Thousands of people take to the street to mourn the death of justice.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - For thousands of people-lawyers, politicians, religious leaders and activists-, today is 'black Friday', a day to mourn the death of justice in front of parliament building, wearing dark hats and flags.

The debate over the motion began in the legislature yesterday and will end tomorrow. If lawmakers vote in its favour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa can replace Justice Badaranayake with another justice.

Various opposition parties, including the United National Party and the Tamil National Alliance, said they would vote against the motion. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party, a Marxist party, said it would boycott the vote.

Tabled in parliament in November, the motion against Badaranayake blames her for some 20, vaguely defined offences that range from having undeclared assets to violating the constitution.

More than a month ago, the chief justice was subjected to sham hearings by a select committee of parliament that culminated in her lawyers walking out on 7 December when the committee refused to give them the list of witnesses.

Civil society groups, including Catholic and Buddhist leaders, and the international community have criticised the whole process as a way for the government to interfere with the courts.

Yesterday, some government supporters who tried to attack a march organised by ordinary Sri Lankan and lawyers organisations were stopped by police.

Anton Marcus, a Catholic, was among the protesters. He said that the government is showing how far it it is willing to go to ride roughshod over anybody to violate the constitution.

For Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a human rights activist and a member of the Christian Solidarity Movement, independent courts are essential for democracy.

"There is always talk about development, but the poor are denied their rights in the name of the economy," he said.

Local and foreign private enterprises, he noted, are grabbing land from farmers with the support of the government, and the exploitation and underpayment of workers is a major problem.

"For these people, the only hope is the courts' relative independence," the priest explained. "However, if the government takes over the courts, then no one can be sure that their rights will be protected."