Police Murders And Sri Lankan Media Responsibility

by Nalaka Rupasinghe

(June 15, Colombo,Sri Lanka Guardian) It was recently reported (May 24th) that another man, age 33, a father of two young children, had died in Kottawa police custody. Relatives and friends claim he died as a result of a brutal police assault.

According to the police, the suspect, a wanted criminal, died of a heart attack.

This raises several issues. How could the police claim the victim died of a heat attack before a post-mortem had been performed? Even if he were a criminal, did he not deserve a fair trail?
It is alleged that the man, Nalaka Peiris, was arrested because he did not have an ID card. Relatives say the victim did have his ID at the time of his arrest and he was not a criminal.

In a news website video, relatives and friends are seen mourning his death. Their words, tone and body language suggest they are indeed telling the truth. One man, fortified by alcohol — often used to ease the pain of bereavement — cries “Munta vahi nethi hena gahanna owne” (may ‘thunder’ from a clear sky punish these perpetrators.) This is how poor people express their frustration with the law that fails to punish criminals.

Does the law state that the punishment for being found without an ID card is death? Should this be happening one year after the war victory, which the government claimed, would “liberate people from terrorism”?

The former Chief Justice, Sarath Nanda Silva has given a vivid description of the country’s lawlessness in recent speeches. When university student Nipun Ramanayake was abducted the man accused, former Colombo Crimes Division SSP Vas Gunawardena, was promoted to Deputy Inspector General (DIG) rank. This was a slap in the face to the judiciary and law-abiding citizens.

When a suspect is murdered or brutally assaulted while in custody, the police rely on government doctors and pro government newspapers such as The Island to support their version of events. This is especially true in rural areas where the victims are often poor and frightened to challenge the police for fear of recrimination against family or friends.

Doctors are also intimidated. The former District Medical Officer (DMO) of a hospital in the north, a Tamil, admitted that his reports would often confirm what the police wanted to see. When I asked why this happened he put his finger to his lips and said, “I must not speak.” It is surely the duty of the media to expose such professional misconduct.

A man told me recently of his experience when he was arrested as a teenager by the Crime Investigation Division (CID). They were seeking information on a suspect who was in hiding. While being interrogated on the notorious “4th Floor”, the leading officer told him “Maekata genavahama goluwoth kathakaranava.

Tho dannavada Dodangoda Mudalalita vetchi vade?” (‘even deaf people talk when they are brought here. Did you know what happened to the Merchant of Dodangoda?’) It was suggested that if he didn’t tell the truth, people would read next day the headline that “a young suspect had committed suicide by jumping from the forth floor.” He was then hung upside down from the window and told to “tell the truth or die.” He replied, “If you kill me my mother loses a loving son, but I can’t tell what I do not know.” He was hauled back into the room eventually and released — lucky enough to live to tell me his story.

It is said that in the old days police officers were carefully selected after checking their background.

However since the war started many people with criminal backgrounds have been recruited. These ‘police criminals’ terrorize citizens with impunity. In a previous article on the police crimes, I presented an in-depth analysis of the root cause. You can read it at the following link — http://str8talkchronicle.com/?p=5223

There have been many other allegations of police brutality during the ‘Rajapaksa regime’. If the government heeded these concerns as well as the explosion of public anger after the Angulana and Bambalapitiya police murders, recent abuses could have been prevented.

In February this year it was reported that Inginiyagala police had murdered another man. In the “official” account, published in the Daily Mirror, the police strongly deny these claims. They say that the man, a farmer in Inginiyagala, died after escaping from police custody and jumping into the Inginiyagala Samudra Lake. The police claim that they and local people begged the man to come ashore but he refused. He then drifted to a part of the lake where the current was very strong and was drowned.

Thanks to a video recording, thousands of people saw how, despite begging for mercy, the Bambalapitiya police forced the victim to drown in the sea in front of many onlookers. (This was last October.)

When police murder a suspect they always seek to get public and media approval by labelling the suspect a ‘criminal.’ The Asian Human Rights Commission has published a true account of the murder. Saman Thilakasiri, 39, a farmer, had reported a case of illegal logging in his neighbourhood, with suspected connections to local police. In the months that followed he was arrested and framed. Family members were also threatened and harassed by, among others, the Officer In Charge of the local police station. When the victims applied for protection, the district’s Assistant Superintendent reportedly told them that this was the consequence of their upsetting the police. (Behind closed doors corruption and abuse go hand in hand.)

According an extract from a diary belonging to Saman, he was then taken to the Officer in Charge (OIC), Anil Ariyawansa, who verbally abused him as follows:

“I thought you are a strong man. My arm is fatter than you. We are licensed thugs. We have power as well as muscle. I hear there are some more thugs in your gang including two Buddhist monks and a newspaper reporter. You know we can turn the pen whichever way we want. Don’t try to be funny with me. As long as I am here you cannot stay in this village. If you don’t leave Inginiyagala I will kill you.” Poor Saman, father of two very young children, had no place to go and faced the ‘consequence,’ death.

A post mortem by a Judicial Medical Officer revealed that the victim had suffered two severe blows to his head and was drowned. The key suspect (O.i.C) of the murder was not punished but merely transferred. You can read more with the following link — http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile php/2010/3432. How many newspapers in Sri Lanka published the victims’ version and the Asian Human Rights Commission report?

Saman died for a noble cause. He had every reason to love and protect the jungle; it was a vital part of his livelihood as a farmer.

Last year, I spoke to the Divisional Secretary in the in the neighbourhood where I used to live. I asked him to take necessary steps to stop illegal logging and clearing of jungles in the catchment areas of the lakes. I told him the loggers were felling centuries old trees along the waterways. I explained that these trees are vital for the livelihood of the farmers and to preserve the irrigation system.

His simple answer was, “Police are behind these loggers. If I were to stop them, my life would be in danger. I could no longer live here.”

I had no answer. If the government cannot protect the jungles, agriculture will soon be in jeopardy.

It is time for the media to reflect on their responsibility with regard to these abuses of human rights. In the UK the media plays a pivotal role in protecting personal liberties and human rights. Even when a prostitute is murdered, British media provides live coverage from the crime scene, bringing pressure on the police to place the facts in the public domain. In addition, Independent Police Complaints Commission conducts investigations into suspected miscarriages of justice.

During the recent terrorist attacks in London, which killed 52 people and injured 750, the police killed an innocent Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes. Menezes was mistaken for failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman, who had attempted to bomb London on July 21, 2005. The media did not allow the police blunder to go unnoticed and put pressure on the government to place the facts in the public domain. The evidence presented at the inquest involved 100 witnesses and is estimated to have cost £3 million. The family of the victim was awarded £100,000 (Rs.16, 691,000apr.) in compensation.

The fallout from the shooting was the removal of Sir Ian Blair as the police commissioner. In a democracy nothing less can be expected.

In Sri Lanka when two young men were killed in cold blood by the Angulana police for the alleged touching of a woman’s hand, the victims’ families received Rs. 500,000 each (£ 3,000apr.) ‘to replace their lost sons.’ But no government can replace the fathers of young children and the husbands of wives who are left in misery forever.

(Courtesy: The Sunday Leader)