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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Two crime suspects seek court protection following deaths of fellow crime suspects in police custody

Justice Minister endorses BASL’s concerns over ‘extra-judicial killings’

The Court of Appeal will take up the high profile case of convicted prisoner Gampola Vicarage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda’s legal bid to prevent him being handed over to the police on Monday (24). ‘Wele Suda’ recently moved the court, successfully, through his mother, Rajagalgoda Gamage Malani, in the wake of two killings in police custody.

Referring to the killing of Dineth Melon Mabula alias ‘Uru Juwa’ and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekera alias Kosgoda Tharaka, on May 11 and 13, respectively, Saliya Pieris, recently elected President of the Bar Association (BASL) said: “These deaths have all the hallmarks of extra-judicial killings and we call upon the State to ensure the safety and security of persons in their custody.”

The BASL issued a comprehensive statement in this regard.

The Court of Appeal directive, in respect of a writ petition filed on behalf of the convicted person (Wele Suda) was issued on May 17.

‘Wele Suda’ is held at the maximum security Boossa prison, one-time detention facility used to detain those apprehended in connection with the second JVP-led insurrection. The Court of Appeal issued an interim directive to prevent the police from taking custody of ‘Wele Suda’ effective till May 24. The bench consisted of Justice Arjuna Obeysekara and Justice Priyantha Fernando.

Romesh de Silva, PC, who appeared for Wele Suda’s mother told court that his client feared for the life of her son that he, too, would be killed the way several others were dealt with. The top lawyer sought an interim order as his client was deeply concerned over the imminent handing over of her son to the police.

The head of a 9-member committee tasked with formulating a new draft Constitution, de Silva explained how the continuing deaths of persons handed over to the police troubled his client who believed her convicted son sentenced to death couldn’t be handed over to the police.

The petitioner has named Inspector General of Police, Commissioner General of Prisons, Superintendent Boossa Prison and the Attorney General as respondents.

In response to The Island query Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, said that he endorsed the views expressed by the President of the BASL. The Minister said; “No one should take the law into their own hands and everyone should be answerable.”

The late Kosgoda Tharaka’s alleged links transpired in investigations into the recovery of the largest weapons cache ever from the underworld in late June 2020. Police commandos recovered 11 T-56 assault rifles and one T-81 hidden in a building at Pitipana, Homagama. The police subsequently recovered some more weapons and ammunition though the inquiry remains stalled.

Attorney-at-law and civil society activist Senaka Perera told The Island that Kosgoda Tharaka had been the second prominent suspect killed after being handed over to some other police unit by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Lawyer Perera said that Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshman aka Makandure Madush, who had been in the custody of the CID since early May 2019, was killed soon after he was handed over to the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). Kosgoda Tharaka, too, had been held by the CID and was recently handed over to the Peliyagoda Special Crimes too died in custody. The latter was also involved in killing of a policeman during a botched jewellery shop robbery at Matara.

Perera charged that the National Police Commission (NPC) chaired by retired IGP Chandra Fernando seemed to be in deep slumber. He said that in his capacity as the President, Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, he took up the issue at hand with the NPC.

Lawyer Perera said that Police headquarters owed an explanation on how suspects died after being transferred from the custody of one police unit to another. Responding to another query, Perera underscored the danger in exposing a convicted person to a life threatening environment. He cited the writ application filed in respect of ‘Wele Suda’ as a bid to prevent another death in custody.

The Court of Appeal on April 05, 2019 rejected an appeal filed by ‘Wele Suda’ over the death sentence imposed on him by the Colombo High Court in 2015 for the possession of heroin.

In the backdrop of effort to prevent the police taking the custody of ‘Wele Suda,’, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris appeared in the Court of Appeal on Thursday (20) on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Pieris brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’.

Pieris sought judicial intervention to ensure safety and security of his client against the backdrop of high profile killing in police custody. The lawyer requested that the court directed the IGP to transfer his client from the Custody of the CID to another unit.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris who appeared on behalf of the outgoing Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, assured the court the matter would be taken up with the IGP. The case will be taken up on June 16.

The Island sought the opinion of Nalin Ladduwahetty, PC, regarding the death in police/judicial custody and legal representations for underworld figures and those involved in narcotics –related offenses. Condemning deaths in custody, PC Ladduwahetty emphasized that every suspect or accused in a case had a right for legal representation. The presumption of innocence operated at all times until a competent court found one guilty.

Chrishmal Warnasuriya explained that no one should die in police custody or otherwise except by the due process followed in terms of the law- a sentence issued by a court of law. Warnasuriya also underscored the responsibility on the part of the lawyers to appear before those who sought their advice. Dismissing what he called the widespread assertion the lawyers were supposed to lie for their clients, Warnasuriya said their responsibility was to present their clients version of events before a court of law. “The decisions are taken by court,” the lawyer who appears for W.U.C. Premasiri, Sub Inspector of Police held by the CID in connection with the controversial Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) dealing in heroin case said. The SI has been held in terms of Detention Orders issued in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Warnasuriya emphasized that a lawyer as an officer of court couldn’t turn away cases and refusal only subjected to some professional limitations, which do not apply in the present instance. The basic principle is that all should be afforded legal representation regardless of the offense and circumstances, Warnasuriya said.

Meanwhile, during parliamentary proceedings on Thursday (20), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka faulted Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath WEerasekara for deaths in police custody. The former Army Commander said that those who had been arrested by the police during the yahapalana administration were killed under controversial circumstances.

by Shamindra Ferdinando/ The Island

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