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A Tribute to Mrs Sriya Malathi Gunasekera, Wife of late comrade Prins Gunasekera

Dr. Lionel Bopage (From Melbourne, Australia)

15 February 2024: This week, we heard the sad news of the death of Mrs Sriya Malathi Karunaratne Gunasekara, the beloved wife of late comrade Prince Gunasekara. Born in 1932, she has passed away last Sunday, February 12, in London. . She was 92 years old. Her husband, Prins was well known as a parliamentarian and an attorney at law. For most of us he was a human rights defender even when it was difficult to do so like in the 1970s. He was one of the first group of lawyers who appeared on behalf of many suspects including me, charged under the Criminal Justice Commissions Act. Because of his political and human rights activities, he and his wife faced many challenging situations when they lived in Sri Lanka.

The Gunasekera family lived in Rosemead Place, Colombo. Comrade Rohana and I were frequent visitors in the late seventies and the first half of the eighties, before the proscription of the JVP in July 1983 by the regime led by President J R Jayawardene. Whenever we visited their home, Mrs Gunasekera treated us politely and kind-heartedly.

Comrade Prins was the legal advisor to comrade Rohana when he was the candidate for Presidential Elections in 1983. He was also the attorney who looked after the legal aspects when the JVP filed a case against the referendum that postponed the general elections that were to be held immediately after the Presidential Elections. He also contributed to building links between comrade Rohana and Mr Maithripala Senanayake and later with Mr Felix R Dias Bandaranayake.

In 1983, under the Emergency Laws Comrade Prins was detained with me and about twenty others of the JVP. We were held incommunicado on the first floor of the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department. Their so-called investigations were held on the fourth floor. The ordeal lasted for many months. It was followed by a period of severe state repression against the JVP and most of the leaders went into hiding.

This entire period was a difficult time to dissent. Mrs Gunasekera faced all these challenges with courage, strength and determination. Until then, their house was open to all those comrades who sought their advice when they were facing the violent repression of the state. During this time comrade Prins filed hundreds of habeas corpus applications for those who had been made to disappear by the state security forces and their para-militaries.

Many attorneys including Mr Kanchana Abeypala, who was a close relation of Prins were assassinated by the regime’s hit squads. Ultimately, as many of us had to, the Gunasekera family was forced into exile in order to save their lives. They sought refuge in the United Kingdom. Prins and Mrs Gunasekera provided a safe environment for their three daughters to build their lives.

We salute the life Mrs Gunasekera. A life spent as a courageous and determined woman in supporting her husband in his commitment to human rights and justice. We also  take this occasion to convey our heartfelt condolences to the Gunasekera family, their relatives and friends. Our thoughts are with the Gunasekera family at this difficult time.

I apologise for this late response. The delay was due to the power cuts and internet being down due to the severe thunderstorms we had in Victoria.

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