The Supreme Court directed the state to pay a total of Rs. 100,000 to a mother and her daughter who were wrongfully arrested and detained by the police on a false complaint.
Justice Prasanna S. Jayawardena, concurring with justices Eva Wanasundera and Nalin Perera in his judgment, observed that Sri Lankan law did not envisage an offence only if some offence or nuisance, as is recognised by law, is committed in the course of such an exercise.
Petitioners Swarna Manjula (daughter) and Henalage Rosaliya (mother) filed their fundamental rights violation petition citing the Kekerawa Police OIC Pushpakumara and Acting OIC Ratnayake, IGP, Attorney General and two others as respondents.
Saliya Peiris PC with R.D. de Silva appeared for the petitioners. Deputy Solicitor General Varunika Hettige appeared for the respondents.
The petitioners are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination which differs from the doctrines of mainstream Christian churches. It has over 6,000 members in Sri Lanka forming more than 100 congregations.
The petitioners stated that they were arrested in the course of one of their public ministries in February 2014 during their home visit to the village of Kottalbadda while 25 people gathered there and berated the petitioners for “attempting to forcefully convert persons for monetary gain and selling religion for money”.
They lamented that the complainants, who were outsiders of the said premises, lodged the complaint under the dictation of two police officers alleging that the petitioners forcibly entered the premises and carried out religious conversions.
They stated they were arrested on the basis of the complaint on suspicion of the offences of criminal trespass and criminal intimidation.
Court observed the deliberate falsehoods go to the root of the OIC and the Acting OIC’s case and gravely impugn the credibility of the positions taken by them and that they had sought to misrepresent the arrest and detention of the petitioners.
Court noted that Article 14(1)(e) of the Constitution confers the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching and to do so either alone or with others and in public or private.
Court also noted the word ‘religion’ was hard to define and that it could mean different things to different people and as a result there had been an interesting philosophical, philological and etymological debate among scholars on what the word meant.
It took note that the word ‘religion’ is used in Article 14(1)(e) in its modern day context of meaning a particular system of beliefs – either belief in an essentially non-theistic doctrine and its aligned code of living which achieves one’s spiritual, mental and material development or a theistic belief in a divine being or divine beings to be worshipped and obeyed. Court held the fundamental rights to equality and equal protection of the law as well as the freedom from arbitrary arrest had been violated by the OIC and the petitioners were entitled to compensation for the wrongful arrest and detention they were forced to undergo and for harassment and directed the State pay the petitioners Rs. 50,000 each as compensation.