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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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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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