A British judge has issued a warrant for the arrest of a Sri Lankan army officer who was found guilty today of committing public order offences in London.
Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, who did not attend court, was convicted of causing three Tamil activists “harassment, alarm and distress.”
Westminster magistrates’ court saw video footage of him making throat-slitting gestures at Tamils who were protesting outside the Sri Lankan embassy in London last February.
Brig Priyanka was stationed in Britain as Sri Lankan military attaché.
The court heard he had been involved in the last stages of the Sri Lankan government’s war against the Tamil separatist movement in 2009, including the bombing of a hospital.
Tamil activists told Chief Magistrate Sonia Henley that they had been living in fear of the brigadier’s “hit men” ever since he made the chilling gestures.
The night after the protest, they filed complaints at four London police stations, prompting Metropolitan Police officers to visit the embassy.
Officers found that there was no formal CCTV footage of the incident and suspected that embassy staff had wiped the tapes. Police did not press charges and Brig Priyanka was able to leave Britain.
Three Tamils then filed a private prosecution against the soldier, citing offences under the Public Order Act.
Ms Henley allowed the case to proceed today in the absence of the defendant, saying she was “satisfied every effort had been made” to serve the charges on him.
The court was shown a video recording of the incident shot by eyewitness Sabeshraj Sathiyamoorthy.
His footage was widely used after the incident by TV news channels across Sri Lanka, apparently angering the authorities.
He claimed that Sri Lankan embassy staff had later approached him in London and warned: “If you come back to Sri Lanka, you will be detained at the airport and go missing. We will do what we need to do.”
Mr Sathiyamoorthy also received threats by phone from callers who withheld their number, and had 200 missed calls one night.
The three Tamils who brought the private prosecution also gave written evidence, which was read out by the prosecutor.
They all alleged that their relatives in Sri Lanka had been threatened because of their involvement in this case.
Complainant Majuran Sathananthan said the soldier “appeared to be very angry and irritated” when he made the throat-slitting gestures.
“Brig Fernando will organise people to find and kill me unless he’s arrested,” he told the court.
A second complainant, Golulakhrishnan Narayanasamy, said he had left the demonstration “feeling scared for my life” and warned that “Brig Fernando’s hit men could kill me at any time.”
The third complainant in the case, Vinoth Perera, said the brigadier “looked at us with hate.”