Image: Sri Lanka police aim tear gas directly at the protestors.
Civil society report claims tear gas including expired grenades, cartridges used between 31 Mar-20 July 2022
- No use in firing expired tear gas as it is ineffective, Police notes
- Between 31 March and 20 July 2022, the Police had used over Rs. 26 million (Rs. 26,706,578.17) worth of tear gas hand grenades and cartridges on 84 occasions, according to a civil society report on the matter.
According to the said report, during this period, the Police had used 6,722 tear gas hand grenades and cartridges, many a time blatantly violating and disregarding safety instructions pertaining to the use of tear gas while the Police had even used expired tear gas and had attempted to cover up that they had when information was requested in that regard.
This was revealed in a report issued by the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) yesterday (7) in Colombo. The report, which was based on information obtained through a Right to Information (RTI) request and interviews with trusted sources, further pointed out that several units of the Police, including the Police Headquarters and the Police Supply Division, deliberately disregarded the RTI requests and at times, provided false and misleading information. This was despite the interventions made by the RTI Commission when the RTI requests were not properly entertained by the relevant units of the Police Department.
The report underscored a number of serious irregularities and flaws in the processes of procuring and using tear gas, adding that some of these acts placed at risk the lives of protestors and even police officers that launched tear gas. “When tear gas was purchased, the Police had not conducted laboratory tests about the contents of the tear gas and had accepted as true the details provided by the producer or the institutions that submitted tenders. In some purchases, the producer had not even mentioned the chemical composition of the tear gas. The Police has admitted in writing that in such cases, the Police accepted the assurance provided by the relevant companies that tear gas had been produced in accordance with the relevant standards,” the report claimed, adding that in some cases when the Police purchased tear gas, a member with expertise on tear gas had not been appointed to the relevant technical evaluation committees.
“A total of 20,000 teargas hand grenades and cartridges had been purchased in 2012. Between 2012 and 2015, the Police used only 2,306 tear gas hand grenades and cartridges. Although the remaining stocks expired in 2017, they had not been destroyed. The 20,000 teargas hand grenades and cartridges that were purchased in 2012 expired in 2017, while the tear gas hand grenades and cartridges that were purchased in 2017 expired in 2021, and the 15,000 tear gas hand grenades and cartridges that were purchased in 2019 expired in 2023.
In total, around 40,000 tear gas hand grenades and cartridges expired by this year. Between 2012 and 20 July 2022, the Police used 8,265 tear gas hand grenades and cartridges. Even if they were assumed to have been purchased in 2012, 2017, and 2019, 31,735 tear gas hand grenades and cartridges should remain in stocks.”
Moreover, the report noted that the manner in which tear gas was used to control protests in 2022 was highly questionable. This was mainly based on the experiences of those who underwent various intense and sometimes unusual complications after being exposed to tear gas, which the presenters of the report noted were concerning and raised doubts as to whether the Police used tear gas that was up to the standards.
It explained: “Although instructions had been issued by tear gas producers that tear gas should not be used near firearms, in 2022, the most amount of tear gas was used near firearms. Although tear gas producers had issued instructions that tear gas should only be used by trained officers and should not be launched directly at protestors, there were reports that even untrained officers launched tear gas directly at protestors. Several protestors were injured due to such conduct. It has been revealed that the Police used tear gas hand grenades and cartridges in large quantities without adhering to a proper method or supervision. The Police used tear gas even in places surrounded by buildings which resulted in longer periods of time for the air to clear. The Police had also used tear gas without issuing a warning to protestors to disperse.”
In addition, the report claimed that even by December 2022, Inspector General of Police Chandana D. Wickramaratne had not taken steps to dispose of expired tear gas and had provided false information to show that the claims that expired tear gas was used were untrue.
When queried about the said report’s findings, Police Media Spokesman, Senior Superintendent of Police, and Attorney Nihal Thalduwa told The Daily Morning that since the matter of tear gas is handled by a separate section of the Police Department, he could not provide an immediate response on the specific issues raised without further inquiry from the relevant sections. He further claimed that this was because the matter of the quality of the tear gas used and whether such was expired and whether the relevant procedures were followed when firing tear gas concerned technical aspects. He, however, added that generally speaking, expired tear gas cannot be used, also noting that the use of expired tear gas was futile as it did not have the sufficient repellent effect and potency. He also noted that tear gas is fired at marches that draw large crowds of people.
The expiry dates of the tear gas fired by the police in the Galle Face struggle had passed way over 20 years with some manufacturing dates going back to 2000. And 6,000 such canisters had been used in the first four months of the Aragalaya alone compared to 2, 000 rounds fired during the last 10 years, an exclusive report revealed today.
The police have purchased about 40, 000 canisters of tear gas in the last ten years since 2012 and over 8, 000 had been used in various protests since then, out of which over 6, 000 had been fired during the height of the Aragalaya from the incident outside ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence in Mirihana in March 20022 to July 2022.
An exclusive report released by the investigation team of the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) led by freelance journalist Tharindu Jayawardena with the backing of the Right to Information Commission disclosed many startling facts about the condition of the tear gas used by the police during the Aragalaya.
The report titled ‘Tear Gas – Tears of Twenty Million’ was released to the public at the CSR Auditorium yesterday, that revealed the police have used tear gas in numerous instances, which were supposed to have passed its expiry dates about 10 to 20 years.
Journalist Tharindu Jayawardena said a special investigation was commenced by them last September after victims of these protests complained that they had immensely suffered from the tear gas used in the crowd dispersion.
“As a journalist I have gone to cover many Inter University Student Federation protest campaigns in the last decade and had been subjected to numerous tear gas attacks. But the ones we experienced during the Aragalaya are far more serious and painful than those in the past. Therefore, we felt the urgency to run an investigation about the tear gas used as many alleged that the police were using expired canisters,” Jayawardena said.
So we sought information from the Police Department on several occasions through the Right to Information Act but the latter didn’t furnish with relevant and adequate information. Thereafter during four appeal hearings of the RTI Commission, the police were ordered to furnish full details but some vulnerable information has not been provided to date.
The RTI Commission will act legally through the Magistrate Courts against the Police Department in due course, Attorney Manushika Cooray addressing the gathering said.
The expiry period of a canister is usually five years but we have evidence that police used gas purchased in 2000, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019.
This is clear violation of public health as these gases are used to disperse crowds and not to kill them with respiratory and other complications. Whereas about two to three deaths reported during the Aragalaya were owing to complications that rose in tear gas attacks.
Rev. Father Rohan Silva of the CSR and Attorney Suren D. Perera also addressed the gathering. (Kurulu Koojana Kariyakarawana) DM