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‘Wele Suda’, ‘Podi Lassi’ seek court protection following deaths of fellow criminals in police custody

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Justice Minister endorses BASL’s concerns over ‘extra-judicial killings’

 

by Shamindra Ferdinando

 

The Court of Appeal will take up the high profile case of convicted prisoner Gampola Vicarage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda’s legal bid to prevent him being handed over to the police on Monday (24). ‘Wele Suda’ recently moved the court, successfully, through his mother, Rajagalgoda Gamage Malani, in the wake of two killings in police custody.

Referring to the killing of Dineth Melon Mabula alias ‘Uru Juwa’ and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekera alias Kosgoda Tharaka, on May 11 and 13, respectively, Saliya Pieris, recently elected President of the Bar Association (BASL) said: “These deaths have all the hallmarks of extra-judicial killings and we call upon the State to ensure the safety and security of persons in their custody.”

The BASL issued a comprehensive statement in this regard.

The Court of Appeal directive, in respect of a writ petition filed on behalf of the convicted person (Wele Suda) was issued on May 17.

‘Wele Suda’ is held at the maximum security Boossa prison, one-time detention facility used to detain those apprehended in connection with the second JVP-led insurrection. The Court of Appeal issued an interim directive to prevent the police from taking custody of ‘Wele Suda’ effective till May 24. The bench consisted of Justice Arjuna Obeysekara and Justice Priyantha Fernando.

Romesh de Silva, PC, who appeared for Wele Suda’s mother told court that his client feared for the life of her son that he, too, would be killed the way several others were dealt with. The top lawyer sought an interim order as his client was deeply concerned over the imminent handing over of her son to the police.

The head of a 9-member committee tasked with formulating a new draft Constitution, de Silva explained how the continuing deaths of persons handed over to the police troubled his client who believed her convicted son sentenced to death couldn’t be handed over to the police.

The petitioner has named Inspector General of Police, Commissioner General of Prisons, Superintendent Boossa Prison and the Attorney General as respondents.

In response to The Island query Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, said that he endorsed the views expressed by the President of the BASL. The Minister said; “No one should take the law into their own hands and everyone should be answerable.”

The late Kosgoda Tharaka’s alleged links transpired in investigations into the recovery of the largest weapons cache ever from the underworld in late June 2020. Police commandos recovered 11 T-56 assault rifles and one T-81 hidden in a building at Pitipana, Homagama. The police subsequently recovered some more weapons and ammunition though the inquiry remains stalled.

Attorney-at-law and civil society activist Senaka Perera told The Island that Kosgoda Tharaka had been the second prominent suspect killed after being handed over to some other police unit by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Lawyer Perera said that Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshman aka Makandure Madush, who had been in the custody of the CID since early May 2019, was killed soon after he was handed over to the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). Kosgoda Tharaka, too, had been held by the CID and was recently handed over to the Peliyagoda Special Crimes too died in custody. The latter was also involved in killing of a policeman during a botched jewellery shop robbery at Matara.

Perera charged that the National Police Commission (NPC) chaired by retired IGP Chandra Fernando seemed to be in deep slumber. He said that in his capacity as the President, Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, he took up the issue at hand with the NPC.

Lawyer Perera said that Police headquarters owed an explanation on how suspects died after being transferred from the custody of one police unit to another. Responding to another query, Perera underscored the danger in exposing a convicted person to a life threatening environment. He cited the writ application filed in respect of ‘Wele Suda’ as a bid to prevent another death in custody.

The Court of Appeal on April 05, 2019 rejected an appeal filed by ‘Wele Suda’ over the death sentence imposed on him by the Colombo High Court in 2015 for the possession of heroin.

In the backdrop of effort to prevent the police taking the custody of ‘Wele Suda,’, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris appeared in the Court of Appeal on Thursday (20) on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Pieris brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’.

Pieris sought judicial intervention to ensure safety and security of his client against the backdrop of high profile killing in police custody. The lawyer requested that the court directed the IGP to transfer his client from the Custody of the CID to another unit.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris who appeared on behalf of the outgoing Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, assured the court the matter would be taken up with the IGP. The case will be taken up on June 16.

The Island sought the opinion of Nalin Ladduwahetty, PC, regarding the death in police/judicial custody and legal representations for underworld figures and those involved in narcotics –related offenses. Condemning deaths in custody, PC Ladduwahetty emphasized that every suspect or accused in a case had a right for legal representation. The presumption of innocence operated at all times until a competent court found one guilty.

Chrishmal Warnasuriya explained that no one should die in police custody or otherwise except by the due process followed in terms of the law- a sentence issued by a court of law. Warnasuriya also underscored the responsibility on the part of the lawyers to appear before those who sought their advice. Dismissing what he called the widespread assertion the lawyers were supposed to lie for their clients, Warnasuriya said their responsibility was to present their clients version of events before a court of law. “The decisions are taken by court,” the lawyer who appears for W.U.C. Premasiri, Sub Inspector of Police held by the CID in connection with the controversial Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) dealing in heroin case said. The SI has been held in terms of Detention Orders issued in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Warnasuriya emphasized that a lawyer as an officer of court couldn’t turn away cases and refusal only subjected to some professional limitations, which do not apply in the present instance. The basic principle is that all should be afforded legal representation regardless of the offense and circumstances, Warnasuriya said.

Meanwhile, during parliamentary proceedings on Thursday (20), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka faulted Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Fonseka for deaths in police custody. The former Army Commander said that those who had been arrested by the police during the yahapalana administration were killed under controversial circumstances.



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People to get fuel price shock soon

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The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes  would be revealed soon.

The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.

“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.

Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.

The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.

The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody

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Report called by June 13

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.

In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.

HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.

Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.

Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.

Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause  in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.

Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and  March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.

Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.

In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.  

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.

The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.

 

 

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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.

Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions  too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.

“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.

College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.

“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.

“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said

President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.

Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.

“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely  to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.

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