Sri Lanka's influential Buddhist monks on Thursday urged President Mahinda Rajapaksa to withdraw an impeachment motion that accuses the country's chief justice of misusing power and having unexplained wealth.
A letter signed by monks heading the four organizations that cover all the Buddhist monks in the country urged the government to safeguard judicial independence, saying the majority of the public think the impeachment motion "will lead to disenchantment about all branches of the judiciary."
The motion filed by lawmakers of Rajapaksa's ruling coalition levels 14 charges against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Opposition parties and independent analysts say the impeachment attempt is aimed at stifling judiciary independence and concentrating power with Rajapaksa.
The monks' letter, which was given to The Associated Press and published in local newspapers, said it is not proper "to resort to actions which will generate an apprehension with regard to the judiciary and the judges." It said such conduct would do more harm than good.
Buddhism is the state religion of Sri Lanka and monks are influential over the public and government. About 74 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million people are Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhists.
The impeachment motion was submitted a month ago calling for a Parliament Select Committee to investigate 14 charges and remove Bandaranayake. Parliamentary Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, who is the president's brother, announced the setting up of the committee two weeks ago.
The motion alleges that Bandaranayake's actions had "plunged the Supreme Court and the office of chief justice into disrepute." Bandarananyake has said she "can easily refute" the allegations.
The United Nations, the United States and rights groups have expressed concerns about the motion, which follows months of conflict between Parliament and the judiciary.
Bandaranayake came under strong government criticism after she ruled that legislation giving more power to Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, another brother of the president, violated the constitution.
The Court of Appeal, which is immediately below the Supreme Court, has ordered Speaker Rajapaksa and the 11 lawmakers in the parliament committee probing the motion to appear before the court, in response to several petitions filed against the committee.
Chamal Rajapaksa rejected the Court of Appeal notices Thursday, saying they "constitute an unwarranted interference with the powers and procedures of Parliament, and are invalid."
The complaint alleges Bandaranayake did not disclose how she obtained 19 million rupees ($146,000) to pay for a house purchased under power of attorney for another person. It also alleges that she took control of several cases filed against the company that sold the property after removing the judges who originally heard them.
It also accuses Bandaranayake of not declaring the contents of 20 bank accounts, including four foreign currency accounts containing the equivalent of 34 million rupees ($260,000), and alleges that she misused her position to harass other judges.
If the committee determines that the complaint has merit, an impeachment motion will be voted on and forwarded to President Rajapaksa for further action. With his ruling coalition controlling more than two-thirds of Parliament's seats, such a motion is expected to be carried easily.