Seventh-day Adventist pastor Anthony Alexander was released on Monday, May 15, after spending more than two years in a Sri Lankan prison on charges of “terrorist activity.” Citing insufficient evidence, the High Court judge dismissed the remaining charges and, in an unprecedented move, waived the usual two-week waiting period and instead ordered Alexander’s immediate release. Alexander is now in the care of Adventist Church leaders in Sri Lanka and has been reunited with his wife, Saratha, and their five children.
“There is insufficient evidence to convict Anthony Alexander of the charges presented before me,” the judge said in his ruling. “He has been detained long enough, therefore I am ordering that he be released immediately.” The decision came just four days after a judge threw out related charges against Alexander, saying that the evidence could not support a guilty verdict.
Alexander, who has established a number of Adventist Churches in the civil war-torn region of northern Sri Lanka, was arrested in March of 1998 after being accused of storing ammunition for use by the “Tamil Tigers,” an anti-government militia. A later charge of harboring a terrorist was added in 1999.
“Anthony was initially tortured and forced to sign a ‘confession’ in a language he doesn’t understand,” says Richard Fenn, associate director in the public affairs and religious liberty department of the world Church who attended earlier hearings in the case. “But Anthony has maintained his innocence throughout, which shone through in his clear and consistent court testimony. His exoneration of these charges is a triumph of justice and an answer to the prayers of thousands around the world who have been following this case.”
His trial was attended by a number of international observers, including Mitchell Tyner, legal counsel from the Adventist Church World Headquarters, who gave assistance to Alexander’s legal team. “It’s gratifying that even in the midst of a civil war, the Sri Lankan legal system has produced a just result,” says Tyner. “At a time with all sorts of pressures to neglect the rights of minorities-especially those perceived as ‘troublesome’-the justice system has come through in good form.”
Delbert B. Pearman, an Adventist Church administrator in Sri Lanka who attended Monday’s court hearing, says the judge also overruled a related case against Alexander pending in a court in another city.
“We anticipated the verdict, but the order of immediate release and the discharging of the Kandy case came as a surprise to even Anthony Alexander,” says Pearman.
“Once a detainee has been declared ‘not guilty,’ it is customary for it to take approximately two weeks to get the court order typed up with appropriate signatures affixed and then passed on to the prison administration before a person walks free,” Pearman explains. “For Anthony Alexander it took less than an hour. Even the judge waited in his chambers while the clerks worked with dispatch to prepare the document for his signature.”
“Anthony was aware of the two-week waiting time required,” says Pearman, “but felt impressed that he should pack all his belongings and bring them with him on the prison bus.”
Gary Krause, communication director for the Church’s Global Mission initiative, who helped organize a global network of Alexander supporters, says that “after two years and two months, justice has finally been served.” Krause thanked the thousands who have “supported Anthony and his family through prayer, letters, and finances” but cautioned that prayers for Alexander were still needed as he copes with the “psychological and emotional adjustments necessary after such a lengthy stay in prison.”
During his 26 months in prison, Alexander conducted weekly worship services, gave more than 50 Bible studies each week to other inmates, and began translating the book The Desire of Ages into the Tamil language.