( Key eye witness Sumith Prasanna’s wife)
A Sri Lankan court today ordered the immediate arrest of officers and constables involved in the storming of a party and causing a death that triggered widespread anger against the police as well as the government.
Embilipitiya magistrate Prasanna Fernando ordered the arrest of 22 police following an outcry over footage showing officers assaulting revellers at a party where one man allegedly thrown to his death through a second floor door.
Graphic footage captured on closed-circuit television showed a group of police in civilian clothing dragging partygoers out onto the street and then thrashing them with sticks in Embilipitiya earlier this month.
Police had initially claimed they came under attack from partygoers. But after a flood of witnesses came forward and the CCTV footage emerged, police chief N. K. Illangakoon ordered an investigation into the incident which found that officers had fabricated evidence.
Police had denied allegations that Illangakoon was attempting a major cover-up following reports that the ASP implicated in the brutal assault had been one of his close associates when he was at the Special Task Force.
Many witnesses said the police went on the rampage after party organisers refused to give them alcohol, describing how the 29-year-old man who died had been assaulted and then pushed through a second-floor window.
Medical reports showed the victim had over 180 cut injuries after being dragged over glass shards from a number of windows which were smashed.
The victim’s wife told investigators that police had even kicked her husband in the head when he fell down. Police had also assaulted children and pregnant women.
Amid a growing public outcry, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake told parliament today that he was retracting an earlier report which claimed that the victim had jumped though a glass door to escape from police.
“It has come to light that the information I gave the House earlier about this incident was wrong,” the minister said, adding that it appeared that police had lied.
The minister had earlier read out a report by Illangakoon who had been criticised by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).
The BASL sent lawyers to Embilipitiya today to ensure that the inquest is conducted properly without police interference.
The incident is a serious embarrassment for the government of President Maithripala Sirisena, which came to power on a promise of improving Sri Lanka’s dismal human rights record.
Last month the independent Human Rights Commission in a landmark case ruled that police had violated international humanitarian law by assaulting students demonstrating in the capital.
The police under Illangakoon has taken the unusual step of challenging the independent commission’s decision in the court of appeal. (COLOMBO, Jan 27, 2016)