Lawyers take their turn | Daily News

Lawyers take their turn

The hate campaign against the Muslim community following the Easter Sunday terror attacks has reportedly taken a new twist, with lawyers now joining the fray by refusing to appear for Muslims now held in custody on suspicion of terrorist links. The matter has been brought to the attention of the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka by Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Dr. Deepika Udagama. In a letter addressed to the BASL, Ms. Udagama inter alia states that members of some of the regional branches of the BASL had refused to appear on behalf of members of the Muslim community, arrested in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. The areas these lawyers belong to include Mawanella and Badulla. The letter goes on to state; "Such discriminatory conduct, you would agree, denies to some of our fellow citizens the possibility of enjoying equal protection of the law under the Constitution of Sri Lanka. This is a serious situation that questions the core values of our legal profession".

It appears that the Muslim community is under siege on all fronts. But the involvement of members of the legal profession in the hate campaign is disturbing, indeed, and cannot be condoned. Every member of the public irrespective of race or religion is guaranteed protection under the law and it is the duty of lawyers to recognize this inalienable right. Depriving them this right for whatever reason is an unpardonable conduct and is unbecoming of members of the legal profession. In any event, merely being arrested does not mean that the parties committed the offence for which they are arrested. After all, one is innocent until proven guilty. Hence, this can only mean that the lawyers concerned are driven by racial prejudice. This matter should be taken up by the Judicial Services Commission.

There is also an organised campaign to boycott everything Muslim. Muslim businesses, especially hotels and eateries are facing the full brunt of this antipathy. Now comes the move by lawyers, who, one might think, are an educated lot, to cold shoulder Muslim clients based on race. We believe that there is a code of ethics governing the legal profession, the violation of which could lead to the cancellation of the licence to practice. Certainly, the selection of clients based on their race could not be one of the provisos in such a code of ethics. Or is this a move to swim with the tide and demonstrate one's patriotism? Then why not go the whole hog and boycott all imports from Muslim countries. The lawyers can start by not pumping fuel into their vehicles since every drop of petrol and petrol products comes from Arab countries. There are also delicacies like wattalappan which are relished by the Sinhalese which too could be given a wide berth, henceforth. Ditto for the much loved Biryani.

It is well known that some of the best doctors and medical specialists hail from the Muslim community. Will the latest spate of boycotting all things Muslim going to mean that we are also going to see a mass exodus of Muslim doctors from this country, ala a post July 83 scenario, when Tamil professionals left our shores in droves. Members of the legal fraternity should desist from acting contrary to the honour and esteem of their profession, and, above all, stop playing to the gallery. As educated men and women, they should not be petty and instead act by example in forging racial unity and communal harmony. After all, the BASL counts among its membership a countless number of Muslims which have gone on to enrich the legal profession. The office of BASL President was also held by Muslims in the past, while the Attorney General's Department and the Bench were adorned by their presence. No doubt, the action of these lawyers who shun Muslims based on race and religion is an affront to these illustrious men.

Of course, the present move by these anti-Muslim lawyers may or may not have political motives. It is also well known that the BASL is today highly politicized and in the election of BASL President too lawyers vote on political lines. This could well be one way of exploiting the current anti-Muslim sentiments for political gain by certain members of the legal fraternity. One recalls how in the days following the October 26 constitutional coup certain lawyers waxed eloquent to portray the act as being a legal one.

The BASL President should direct its membership to stop making a bad situation worse. If the trend continues in the same vein there will be nothing to prevent the Muslim youth being driven to extremism. Boycotting everything Muslim and cold shouldering the community also might invite repercussions from the Muslim countries who have always being friendly towards Sri Lanka. Unfairly targeting Muslim politicians for attack should also cease. The authorities have set in motion the necessary mechanism to deal with all the allegations made against these politicians .There should be no arm twisting in the form death fasts or other side shows until the verdict is pronounced on them. We have already alienated one community and paid a heavy prices. Lessons ought to be learnt from history if we are to prevent a repetition. 


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