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Rights group questions continuing deaths in police custody

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… asks whether the suspect in handcuffs at the time posed a threat to police

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law Senaka Perera says that the death of persons taken into custody by the police cannot be justified under any circumstances.

Activist Perera questioned the circumstances in which Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police on Monday (10) died of gunshot injuries on the following day.

The police couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for the safety and security of those who had been taken into custody even if they were under investigation over criminal activities, lawyer Perera said.

Responding to The Island queries, the activist said that in spite of quite a number of deaths in police custody over the years those responsible never took tangible measures to prevent such incidents.

The Public Security Ministry owed an explanation how the person in the custody of the Nawagamuwa police had received gunshot injuries when he was taken to a place at Waduramulla, Nawagamuwa on Tuesday, lawyer Perera said. The suspect obviously in handcuffs couldn’t have posed a threat to the armed police party accompanying him, Perera said, urging the government to rein in the police behaving like an extra-judicial killer force.

Lawyer Perera said that the Justice Ministry, Public Security Ministry, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Police Commission, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should be concerned about continuing deaths in police custody.

The bottom line was the police bypassed the judicial process and summarily got rid of persons whom they considered a threat, the Attorney-at-Law said.

The civil society activist challenged DIG (Legal) and Attorney-at-Law Ajith Rohana’s version of the events leading to the death of Dinithi Melan.

Based on information provided by the Nawagamuwa police, DIG Rohana said that ‘Uru Juwa’ had been wanted in connection with at least four killings, about 20 cases of taking ransoms and a number of other incidents. The top police official said that ‘Uru Juwa’ had been responsible for incidents during the 2015-2019 period and was being taken by the police to Wanduramulla, where the police opened fire during an incident.

Later, the police recovered five swords, one locally made weapon, 38 rounds of T 56 ammunition, eight rounds of 9mm ammunition and six hand grenades, DIG Rohana said, adding that the suspect was pronounced dead on admission to the local hospital.

DIG Rohana said that Western Province (South) police were conducting an inquiry into the incident under the supervision of a Superintendent of Police.

 Lawyer Perera said that a lawyer visited the late Dinithi Melan at the Nawagamuwa police and his arrest was also brought to the notice of Police Emergency and the HRCSL. Responding to another query, the rights activist said that the arrested person hadn’t been produced before a Magistrate.

Lawyer Perera challenged the police to reveal previous investigations conducted into deaths in police custody. According to him, Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha alias Makandure Madush was killed in what the police claimed a shootout between them and the underworld at Applewatte Housing scheme in Oct 2020. Following the incident, the police made the usual claim of recovering heroin and promised a thorough investigation, lawyer Perera pointed out. “We would like to know the outcome of the internal police inquiry into the Madush killing,” lawyer Perera said.

The police never explained how Madush having been in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) since May 5, 2019 suddenly led the CCD (Colombo Crime Division) to major heroin recoveries just few days of taking the suspect into their custody on Oct 16, 2020, lawyer Perera said. Madush was killed in questionable circumstances four days after the CID handed him over to the CCD, the lawyer alleged.

The human rights activist said that the Parliament should look into deaths in police custody. According to him, there had been a substantial number of deaths in police custody during the previous Rajapaksa administration as well. However, the change of government in January 2015 resulted in a change of the situation for the better, lawyer Perera said, urging the media, both print and electronic, to be cautious in the reportage of deaths in police custody.

Perera said that his organization didn’t oppose law enforcement authorities taking a tough stand on those accused of criminal activity. However, extra-judicial executions couldn’t be part of the police strategy meant to address organized crime, lawyer Perera said.

The possibility of various interested parties, including political elements using the police for ulterior purposes. The police shouldn’t undermine public confidence in them, the lawyer urged law enforcement authorities. 

 

 



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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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