At least three policemen including two sergeants have been interdicted in connection with two separate cell deaths that took place at the start of this month, pending further investigations but a rights group while condemning the incidents has called for tougher action and transparency in the probe.
During the initial investigations the police claimed that in both incidents the victims had apparently hanged themselves while being detained in the holding cells of the two police stations.
The incidents took place inside the Dummalasooriya and Jaela police stations on March 4 and March 16 respectively shortly after midnight and the policemen were interdicted for neglect of duty and for irresponsibility, Police Spokesperson Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Ruwan Gunasekera told the Sunday Times.
In the incident at Dummalasooriya the victim is alleged to have used a belt to hang himself from the cell door while in the second case the man is alleged to have used a cord from his jogging pants to hang himself from the fanlight ventilator, according to ASP Gunasekera.
However he added that thorough investigations will be carried out of both incidents.
He also claimed that in both cases the victims had criminal records relating to theft and house breaking had but the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) thinks otherwise.
The victims were identified as Sameera Pathirana aged 38 who was a resident of Ekala-Ja-ela and Mahawattage Don Chaminda Pushpakumara (38) of Shanthigama, Dummalasooriya in the Kurunegala District.
AHRC claims that according to information gathered Chaminda Pushpakumara had no criminal record and that he was picked up by the Dummalasooriya Police on a complaint made by his wife following a domestic dispute.
The police later detained him on suspicion that he had robbed a gold chain and he had repeatedly maintained his innocence while in custody and voiced anger at his arrest, AHRC said in a statement.
Several relatives visited him within hours of his arrest and found him in good health. Later that night the police had him admitted to the Galmuruwa Government Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Subsequently the police issued a statement to the media that the suspect had hung himself inside the police cell. Relatives have questioned the veracity of the statement.
They asked how the victim could hang himself without any interference by another suspect who was occupying the same cell and the officer guarding the cell.
Witnesses who saw the body testified that there were injuries they did not notice several hours before the incident while the victim was alive.
Family members are strongly demanding justice for the illegal arrest, detention and extrajudicial killing of their family member. Because the persons responsible for the death are police officers, the family members are now living in fear of their lives, the statement added.
By Leon Berenger