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Court delays, police harassment, no justice ( Case One)

Stories of the disposed: Illustrations of the break down in the rule of law in Sri Lanka

By Our Correspondent in Colombo, Sri Lanka

(March 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) S.H. Ramyalatha, a small thin, dark-skinned woman with a big smile and beautiful appearance, lives in a village around 80 km from where we met in Ratnapura, in the southern part of Sri Lanka. She had travelled to update us on the progress of her continuing court case and her long drawn-out struggle for justice for her family.

On 16 December 2007 at approximately 6am she heard shouts and screams coming from her mother’s house a short distance away – they were shouting for help. She ran over to the house and saw two people beating her brother and her mother, who at the time was 67 years old. Ramyalatha, although a slight lady, grabbed a wooden stick and started beating the two men who were attacking her mother. A fight ensued. After several minutes she discovered that the intruders were police men in civilian dress – despite her knowledge of this she continued to beat the men who had attacked her elderly mother and brother. After some time the policemen ran away1.

Some time later twelve policemen returned to the house in jeeps. They surrounded the family’s house, before beating and arresting them. The brother was stripped naked and kept naked for the whole time he was at the police station. However, he was so badly beaten that it was unavoidable for the police to take him to hospital – he nearly died as a result of his extensive injuries.

The family of three were later taken to court and charged with obstructing police duties, assault and keeping firearms. They were kept on remand– the daughter and her elderly mother for 3 months and her brother for 1 year.

The family filed a fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court, leave was granted and the case was adjourned until 13th May 2010 to give the police more time to prepare the case.

Prior to this her family had never been involved with the police – they are a good family that simply go about their daily lives. Ramyalatha has been a single mother for many years, which is almost unheard of in socially conservative Sri Lanka and attaches a lot of stigma and community aspersions. At 40 years old, she lives alone with her young daughter in a remote area. She is the only breadwinner in her family and has to care for her daughter, mother and her brother, who used to be a mason but now is unable to work as a result of his trauma and continuing bad mental and physical condition. To support her family Ramyalatha has several jobs and drives and delivers goods to other villages as well as being a school bus driver and selling products that she makes.

Since the case, the Officer-in-Charge - the senior officer at the station where she and her family were beaten, humiliated and detained, has been continually harassing and making sexual advances towards her at her remote village home, even offering to drive her to court and take her children to school.

Ramyalatha is an incredibly strong, independent and determine young mother. She was keen to stress that she is not at all scared about the very real physical, sexual threat that this officer poses to her. She is optimistic but her main fear is that she will make a complaint about this officer and it will lead to nothing and that the officer will come back. She is also worried that such a complaint would damage her image and that local people will say she has given the officer ‘favours’ – a damaging aspersion easily made against a single woman.

Obviously aware of the unfortunate state of the Sri Lankan legal system and the lack of integrity of some lawyers, she said, “I don’t need any protection – for nine years I have been a single mother – I can handle my own protection. What I need is legal protection – a good lawyer and money to help me fight the case”.

It is easy to forget that while staving off this predatory officer and providing for her family, she is also still trying to get justice and punishment for the initial assault that happened 3 years ago and left her brother severely effected.

To be continued …

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