SRI LANKA: A man is shot dead while in the police custody of Embilipitiya Police
Posted on September 27th, 2010

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION-URGENT APPEAL PROGRAMME

ISSUES: Extrajudicial killing; impunity; rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a man was shot dead by police officers while in the custody of an officer attached to the Embilipitiya Police Station. He was arrested on 17 September 2010 and produced before the Magistrate and a Detention Order (DO) was issued for further detention. The DO issued by the Magistrate allowed the police to keep the man in their custody. They brought him to a location under police protection, where he was killed on 18 September. The fact that no proper investigation of the case has been carried out yet is a denial of justice to the victim and his family. The case illustrates the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in the country.

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to the information that we received, Mr. Ranmukage Ajith Prasanna (30) of Moraketiya Embilipitiya who is married and a father of two children was arrested by police officers attached to the Emlibilipitiya Police in day time 17 September 2010.

According to the relatives of Ajith, he was engaged in paddy – and banana cultivations and had run a curd business for a long time. Ajith was arrested after returning from work at the banana cultivation. According to his wife who witnessed the arrest, the police officers arrived at their home, handcuffed him and took him away.

He was then brought to the police station of Embilipitiya. According to the police Ajith was produced before the Magistrate and a Detention Order (DO) was issued for further investigation. But the court allowed the police to detain Ajith in police custody instead of sending him to the remand prison.

Later on the night of 18 September Ajith was put in a van driving to a location in Modera in Embilipitiya by a group of police officers. The police officers shoot Ajith in the van and later admitted him to the Base Hospital of Embilipitiya. Then he succumbed to his injuries.

According to the police there had been a scuffle inside the van where Ajith had attempted to snatch a firearm from a police officer and as a result the officer shot him. The police also stated that they were bringing Ajith to the location to uncover a haul of weapons concealed by Ajith.

Relatives categorically deny any connection between Ajith and the crimes and vehemently state that he earned his living by cultivating banana and other crops.

In this particular incident Ajith was under the judicial custody. The police officers are responsible for the life of the suspected and are supposed to protect him on behalf of the judiciary. The police officers are legally bound to report the details on all development of the detainee while in police custody including his movements and wellbeing. They are bound only to keep the suspect for interrogations and have to seek permission of the court for any additional movements.

Many identical cases have been reported in Sri Lanka in the recent past. Ironically, according to the police reports every suspect, who has been shot dead while in police custody, has all tried to escape while showing them a stash of concealed weapons and throwing a bomb at them. Despite being accompanied by several police officers holding weapons, the suspected always managed to obtain a weapon and attempted to use it in their direction.

This scenario, as explained by the police has been used in countless other cases, which means that the officers must have been aware of the danger Ajith posed. Why then did they not supervise his movements more closely? Why he was not handcuffed securely? According to Departmental Orders any suspect being taken to a destination outside the confines of a police station must be handcuffed to prevent his escape and ensure his safety and that of the officers.

The Officer-in-Charge of the police station is responsible to protect all the detainees under this custody. Having reached the rank of OIC this officer alone should have the experience necessary to handle the situation. It is the non-transferable duty of the police to ensure the safety of any suspect under detention.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported innumerable cases of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and extra judicial killings cases of citizens at the hands of the police which is illegal under international and local law and which have taken place at different police stations in the country over the past few years. The Asian Human Rights Commission has observed that the Sri Lankan police have used torture as an instrument to terrorize innocent persons and harass the public. Further, the country’s police are implementing a policy of eliminating criminals by killing them after arresting them without producing them to the court of law.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka has guaranteed the right freedom from torture. According to Article 11 of the Constitution ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Further, Article 13(4) “No person shall be punished with death or imprisonment except by order of a competent court, made in accordance with procedure established by law. The arrest, holding in custody, detention or other deprivation of personal liberty of a person, pending investigation or trial, shall not constitute punishment.” Further article 13 (5) guarantees the right of presumption of innocence until being proven guilty.

Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka

In the case of Leeda Violet and Others v. Vidanapathirana, OIC, Police Station, Dikwella and others (3 SLR 1994 377), in a Habeas Corpus application in the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka observed that when there is an established fact that a person was arrested, then it is the duty of the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) to explain the fate of the detainee and what happen to him while in the custody with the relevant entries from the books maintained at the Police Station.
As per the Silva J,

In other words, there is no basis whatever for their arrest and custody. The 1st Respondent who admits having visited the place of arrest at the alleged time denies the act of arrest as alleged by the Petitioners. His denial has been disbelieved by the learned Magistrate. Learned Magistrate has correctly observed that if the 1st Respondent visited the place for any official act in connection with any investigation or peace keeping operation, he could have produced the relevant entries from the books maintained at the Police Station. The suggestion of the 1st Respondent appears to be that whatever operation that was carried out by the authorities at the time in question, at Neelwella, was the responsibility of the Army and not of the Police. The shifting of responsibility from the Police to the Army and vice versa, is of little solace or comfort to the Petitioners. Their evidence discloses a harrowing tale where they have seen their sons taken to the Police Station and kept there for several days. For all intents and purposes their sons have disappeared from the face of the earth after 4 days. The denial of arrest and custody, by the 1st Respondent, who is well identified by the witnesses, as a person known to them, has not commended itself to the learned Chief Magistrate. Certainly, that denial does not commend itself, as being worthy of any credit, to this Court. It was in these circumstances that a rule nisi was issued on the 1st Respondent and the Inspector General of Police to disclose any material in their control as to the whereabouts of the corpora. The rule has been answered only by a repetition of the denial which has already been rejected by the learned Chief Magistrate.”

The alarming policy of Sri Lankan police of killing the suspects after arrest instead of allowing the court to try them in accordance with the law.

The AHRC has recorded hundreds of cases where people were tortured and killed after they were arrested by the police. The Presidential commissions of investigation of cases of disappearances by the Sri Lankan governments have officially recorded more than thirty six thousand cases from throughout the country only between 1988 -1991 which exposed the practice of the Sri Lanka Police of arresting innocent persons, detaining, torturing them and then finally killing them. The AHRC has classified this practice of extrajudicial killing by the state authorities as one of the endemic problems in Sri Lanka.

In the recent past the Sri Lankan police have adopted a policy of killing suspects in the name of eliminating organised crime. However, few if any of these cases are investigated by the police. Even the judiciary of the country has not shown an interest in bringing justice in these incidents.

The reported cases clearly show all the necessary legal elements of the systematic and widespread practice of killing innocents after arrest by police officers.

This whole practice happens despite the Departmental Orders of the Sri Lanka police which expressly rules that OICs of the police stations are responsible to protect the detainees after their arrest. The officers are supposed to maintain public records on the health, foods, all the movements and behaviors of detainees.

The Constitution of the country expressly only allow the judiciary to make punishments to those who have found guilty after fair trial. But this practice of killing detainees shows how the police officers torture detainees as punitive action sometime before going to the extent of killing them.

This practice is imposed against the poorest of the poor in the country. It is used to harass and terrorize the public to make them silent while many of the fundamental and democratic rights guaranteed even by the Constitution of the country were curtailed vehemently. One the other hand this shows how the state of Sri Lanka failed to fulfill its responsibility to international human rights conventions with the UN from being domestically implemented. Adopting of the policy of killing citizens in the name of combating crime clearly shows the state’s unwillingness of respecting internationally accepted human rights and norms. The cases in question show the inability of the state law enforcement agencies that they are no longer willing and able to implement the rule of law in the country. The policy imposed by the Sri Lankan police of killing suspects after arrest clearly shows the sad state of the law enforcement agencies to prosecute the criminals within a rule of law system. Innocent victims who get arrested are in more danger in the hand of police officers than the ordinary citizen might be in the hands of the criminals.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Nevertheless the lack of protection offered to those who are willing to take cases against abusive police officers and the state authorities, means that the law is under-used continues to be employed as a tool by the police to harass people. This not only takes a long-term toll on the victim and his or her family, but on society as a whole, by the undermining of civilian respect for the law and encouraging impunity.

Furthermore, the Asian Human Rights Commission has continuously exposed the way the witness and the victims are getting harassed and on some occasions even killed to suppress the justice. Furthermore we have urged the State of Sri Lanka to adopt a law for the protection of witness protection.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this case and requesting an immediate investigation into the allegations extra judicial killings by the police perpetrators, and the prosecution of those proven to be responsible under the criminal law of the country. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions on this regard.

To support this appeal please click here: Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.  

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ________,

SRI LANKA: A man is shot dead while in the police custody of Embilipitiya Police

Name of Victim: Mr. Ranmukage Ajith Prasanna (30) of Moraketiya Embilipitiya
Name of alleged perpetrators: Officers attach to the Embilipitiya Police Station

Date of incident: 18 September 2010
Place of incident: Embilipitiya Police Division

According to the information that we received, Mr. Ranmukage Ajith Prasanna (30) of Moraketiya Embilipitiya who is married and a father of two children was arrested by police officers attached to the Emlibilipitiya Police in day time 17 September 2010.

According to the relatives of Ajith, he was engaged in paddy – and banana cultivations and had run a curd business for a long time. Ajith was arrested after returning from work at the banana cultivation. According to his wife who witnessed the arrest, the police officers arrived at their home, handcuffed him and took him away.

He was then brought to the police station of Embilipitiya. According to the police Ajith was produced before the Magistrate and a Detention Order (DO) was issued for further investigation. But the court allowed the police to detain Ajith in police custody instead of sending him to the remand prison.

Later on the night of 18 September Ajith was put in a van driving to a location in Modera in Embilipitiya by a group of police officers. The police officers shoot Ajith in the van and later admitted him to the Base Hospital of Embilipitiya. Then he succumbed to his injuries.

According to the police there had been a scuffle inside the van where Ajith had attempted to snatch a firearm from a police officer and as a result the officer shot him. The police also stated that they were bringing Ajith to the location to uncover a haul of weapons concealed by Ajith.
Relatives categorically deny any connection between Ajith and the crimes and vehemently state that he earned his living by cultivating banana and other crops.

In this particular incident Ajith was under the judicial custody. The police officers are responsible for the life of the suspected and are supposed to protect him on behalf of the judiciary. The police officers are legally bound to report the details on all development of the detainee while in police custody including his movements and wellbeing. They are bound only to keep the suspect for interrogations and have to seek permission of the court for any additional movements.

Many identical cases have been reported in Sri Lanka in the recent past. Ironically, according to the police reports every suspect, who has been shot dead while in police custody, has all tried to escape while showing them a stash of concealed weapons and throwing a bomb at them. Despite being accompanied by several police officers holding weapons, the suspected always managed to obtain a weapon and attempted to use it in their direction.

This scenario, as explained by the police has been used in countless other cases, which means that the officers must have been aware of the danger Ajith posed. Why then did they not supervise his movements more closely? Why he was not handcuffed securely? According to Departmental Orders any suspect being taken to a destination outside the confines of a police station must be handcuffed to prevent his escape and ensure his safety and that of the officers.

The Officer-in-Charge of the police station is responsible to protect all the detainees under this custody. Having reached the rank of OIC this officer alone should have the experience necessary to handle the situation. It is the non-transferable duty of the police to ensure the safety of any suspect under detention.

I request your urgent intervention to ensure that the authorities listed below instigate an immediate investigation into the allegations of the extrajudicial killing of the victim. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Mahinda Balasuriya
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440 / 327877
E-mail: [email protected]

2. Mr. Mohan Peiris
Attorney General
Attorney General’s Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
E-mail: [email protected]

3. Secretary
National Police Commission
3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers
109 Galle Road
Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 395310
Fax: +94 11 2 395867
E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]

4. Secretary
Human Rights Commission
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: [email protected]

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission ([email protected])

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