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Monday, January 24, 2022

Prevention custodial deaths in Sri Lanka: Rights group says domestic mechanisms exhausted

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The Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) said yesterday (28) that it would have to seek international intervention regarding the spate of custodial deaths that recently occurred in Sri Lanka, as domestic mechanisms have already been “exhausted without any proper progress made”.

“The latest incident of a death in custody is that of Hewa Lunuwilage Lasantha, alias ‘Tinker Lasantha’. We write the same letters to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) when such an incident happens. We have exhausted our options and it is clear that the domestic mechanisms are not working. This is why we may have to seek international intervention for justice,” CPRP President Senaka Perera told The Morning yesterday (28).

He said that these incidents rise as a result of the Police having no regard for the rule of law, as transparency and accountability mechanisms have weakened following the rule of law.

“Following the introduction of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the relationship between the President of the country and the Police has become a sort of ‘employer-employee’ one. The President is free to appoint an IGP, without any supervisory body looking into the matter,” he stated.

Perera added that these incidents indicate “political commands in action” and raised concerns over what they mean to the safety of society.

Hewa Lunuwilage Lasantha, alias “Tinker Lasantha”, was shot dead in a shootout on 25 Thursday which involved the Police, when he was taken to recover hidden weapons, according to the Police. This occurred following his arrest in Kalutara when Lasantha had allegedly attempted to open fire at the Police, following which the crossfire ensued.

“On the night of 25 November 2021, Sanjaya Ariyadasa, Attorney-at-Law contacted the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to inform him that he has instructions that a client by the name of H.L. Lasantha, alias Tinkering Lasantha, had been apprehended by the officers of the Kalutara Divisional Criminal Investigation Bureau and that he has information that his client will be killed in custody by the Police under the pretext of it happening during a shoot-out whilst being taken to show weapons. Immediately, thereafter, the President of the BASL informed this to the IGP C.D. Wickramaratne via email and text message. He further informed the Commissioner of the HRCSL in charge of Inquiries and Investigations as well as the Director Inquiries and Investigations of the Commission. As an additional measure, the President of the BASL also informed the Governor of the Northern Province Jeewan Thiyagarajah, who also heads the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) of this information. The HRCSL and Thiyagarajah confirm that they had contacted the authorities and informed them of the complaint and requested them to intervene to ensure the safety of the suspect,” the BASL said about the incident on 26 November.

Last week, the Scotland Police announced that it would halt its training programmes with Sri Lanka due to concerns regarding human rights abuses happening in the country. Although there has been a long-standing relationship between the two police forces (since 2010), the Scotland Police said that it will not renew the contract once it expires in March 2022.

Meanwhile, Perera said that the mother of underworld figure “Podi Lassi”, who is currently in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on a detention order, had met the CPRP last Saturday (27) and raised fears about threats to her son’s life.

“Podi Lassi’s detention order will end on 15 December. His mother is concerned about his life as well as there are rumours that a similar incident will occur once his detention order ends. Thus, his mother is hoping to go to the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about her suspicions soon,” said Perera.

On 11 May 2021, underworld figure Mabulage Dineth Melan Mabula, alias “Urujuwa”, died in a shoot-out while in police custody. Two days later, on 13 May 2021, Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekera, alias “Kosgoda Tharaka”, also died in a shoot-out while in police custody. On both these occasions, Police Media Spokesman at the time Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Ajith Rohana told the media that incidents that had occurred while the suspects had been taken for special police operations had led to their deaths.

In a similar incident in October last year, underworld figure Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha, alias “Makandure Madush”, was killed while in police custody. The Police at the time claimed that the victim was killed in crossfire between the Police and suspected gang members, as the latter group had attempted to release him from police custody.

TM

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