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Civil society demands end to deaths in police custody

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‘Autopsies on Mahara victims revealed ugly truth’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Senior lawyer Senaka Perera yesterday (29) said that the government owed an explanation as regards deaths in police custody.

Perera said that the latest killing in police custody had taken place in the Veyangoda police area in the early hours of Monday (28).

Responding to The Island queries in this regard, Perera, who heads the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners said that the police couldn’t justify the killing of 37-year-old Nishantha Kumarasiri of Bandagagoda Road, Veyangoda at Halgampitiya, Veyangoda in the early hours of Monday.

Asking how a handcuffed suspect could try to strangle a police driver, Perera said it was a familiar narrative.

The police claimed that they had been left with no alternative but to shoot the suspect, who attacked the police driver.

The police detained Kumarasiri over the gruesome crime of severing the arms and legs of a person who allegedly tipped off the police about his nefarious activities. The limbless father of three children is now recovering in a hospital. After committing the dastardly deed, Kumarasiri and his accomplice had even carried off one of the limbs of the victim. Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said that there were three High Court cases pending against Kumarasiri, obviously pointing to the fact that he was no angel.

While not justifying killing of violent criminals in custody here, an independent observer, however said far more unarmed innocent Negroes and other minority group members running to hundreds were gunned down by police forces in the bastion of democracy, the USA each year with impunity as the entire system there was geared to cover up such killings. And only in this year that civil society groups and media there really started agitating against such killings for the world to hear, he said.

Lawyer Perera also questioned the controversial practice of taking suspects out of police stations and other detention facilities in the middle of the night or in early hours to recover weapons stashed away by such desperados conveniently hardly seen  by anyone, but the police accompanying them.

Kumarasiri had been taken to Halgampitiya, Veyangoda around 3.30 am, the civil society activist said, pointing out the previous death in police custody took place in the early hours of Oct 20, this year when the police claimed Madush Lakshitha alias Makandure Madush was killed during a confrontation between law enforcement personnel and the underworld in the Maligawatte police area.

Lawyer Perera said that the Justice Ministry, the Attorney General, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka as well as Police Headquarters should take tangible measures to prevent deaths in police custody. The Parliament should inquire into deaths in Police custody as well as in Prisons, lawyer Perera said, pointing out the recent revelation that eight suspects previously described as victims of clashes among Mahara prisoners were killed in gunfire.

No less a person than the State Minister in charge of Prisons, Lohan Ratwatte declared in parliament on Dec 3 all 11 Mahara deaths were due to clashes among prisoners. Responding to another query, lawyer Perera said that autopsies of the three remaining victims would be revealed soon.

Lawyer Perera said that his organization recently complained to the Chief Justice, the AG and the BASL regarding the position taken up by the State Counsel at the Wattala Magistrate court where the Mahara case was being heard. The lawyer alleged that attempts were being made to silence them by calling those who represented prisoners NGO operatives.

According to Perera the killing of those in police or Prisons custody and subjecting them to inhuman treatment violated 13 (3) of the Constitution. In spite of their efforts, suspects had been eliminated under controversial circumstances and the killing Makadure Madush and Kumarasiri in October and Dec this year proved those in authority turned a blind eye to what was going on.

The Island sought a clarification from Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC on deaths in police custody. Minister said that the police didn’t come under his purview though he would take it up with the Attorney General.

The Island also sought the BASL’s opinion on the matter from its President Kalinga Indatissa, PC. However, at the time of going to press, The Island couldn’t obtain the BASL’s response.

Counsel Perera said that extra judicial killings couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances. The police couldn’t decide the fate of suspects/prisoners, he said urging the Parliament to intervene in what he called a matter of utmost importance.

The civil society activist said that if not for their efforts those in authority could have easily cremated the bodies of Mahara prisoners on the basis they tested corona positive. Had that happened autopsies wouldn’t have revealed the ugly truth that all of them died as a result of gunshot injuries.

The Mahara case is scheduled to be taken up at the Wattala Magistrate court today (30).

Lawyer Perera said that the massacre  during the Welikada prison riot in 2014, when even a STF DIG was shot and injured by rioting prisoners, after they armed themselves by breaking into an armoury there, proved how brutal the State crackdown could be. Wrongdoers should be dealt appropriately in terms of the law, lawyer Perera claimed, urging the political leadership to rein in the police.

Asked whether they would complain to the HRCSL, lawyer Perera said that the body had been politicized and weakened to such an extent the public couldn’t depend on it.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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