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The Supreme Court yesterday granted leave to hear a fundamental rights petition filed by former Western Province Governor Azath Salley seeking his release.

Salley in his petition requests the apex court to declare that the decision of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to arrest him and detain him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act violates his fundamental rights.

After lengthy consideration, the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, and Justices S. Thurairajah and Yasantha Kodagoda, issued the order to consider the petition.

Accordingly, the court issued notices to the Director and OIC of the CID, the Attorney General and others who were named as respondents in the petition, to file their objections to the case on or before 19 November.

The apex court ordered both parties to submit any objections relevant to the case before 19 December and decided to hear the case on 15 December.

President’s Counsel Faiz Musthapha, appearing for the petitioner, highlighted in court the circumstances around his client’s arrest.

Salley had been arrested by the CID on 16 March after it was alleged that comments he made during a 9 March press conference had sought to undermine brotherhood and reconciliation between communities.

PC Mustafa however noted that Salley had been arrested without a complaint ever having been lodged against his client.

At this press conference, Mustafa noted, his client had expressed his views on Muslim law, Kandyan law as well as Thesavalama law. So, questioned the President’s Counsel, how could commenting on a private law in the country be a violation of the law?

Justice Thurairajah replied, asking the President’s Counsel Mustafa, when judging the overall statement of the petitioner, whether it could mean that his client did not accept the common law of the land.

The President’s Counsel said that just because a person declared that he accepted the private law of the country did not mean that he did not accept the common law of the country. He said his client’s statement had been distorted and broadcast by the media.

Judge Thurairajah then asked whether the petitioner had lodged a complaint against the media for distorting his statement.

The President’s Counsel said that it was not necessary to make such a complaint.

Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya questioned whether the petitioner had given an explanation regarding the distortion of his statement and its publication in the media before he was arrested.

Responding to this, the President’s Counsel said that no such explanation had been made.

Judge Thurairajah stated in open court that during this press conference, the petitioner had made misleading statements, even about the Quran he believed in, and that insulting the Quran was an offense punishable under Sharia law.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris, appearing for the Attorney General, stated that investigations into the petitioner were initiated based on a written complaint lodged by two Members of Parliament and two monks.

The Deputy Solicitor General further stated that the petitioner had been arrested after recording the statements of 53 persons during these investigations.

The petitioner was arrested in connection with the statements made during the interrogation and the damage to the Mawanella Buddha statues, the State Counsel said but admitted that the investigation had not revealed that the petitioner was involved in the destruction of Buddha statues in Mawanella or the Easter Sunday attacks.

After considering all the facts, the court allowed the petition filed by Azath Salley to be considered.

(Daily FT)