BASL, Rights group concerned over custodial deaths

By Pamodi Waravita 

The Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) yesterday (13) expressed concerns over the back to back custodial deaths of two suspects who were in Police custody, namely, Mabulage Dineth Melan Mabula alias “Urujuwa” and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekera alias “Kosgoda Tharaka”. 

The BASL, in a statement issued to the press yesterday, urged the State to “ensure the safety and security of persons in its custody.” 

“On 12 May, an AAL representing Wijesekera informed the BASL by electronic mail that his client had been suddenly transferred from the custody of the CID to a special Police unit at Peliyagoda and that he fears that his client will be killed in custody. Acting upon the complaint, between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., BASL President and President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris informed IGP Wickramaratne via e-mail, short message service (SMS) text, and WhatsApp message, about the apprehensions of the said AAL and reminded the IGP that the Police and the State have a duty to protect persons in their custody. The IGP was reminded that the Supreme Court in many decisions has reiterated the duty and responsibility cast on the State to ensure the safety and security of persons in its custody,” the statement further said. 

Despite these complaints, Wijesekera died from injuries sustained in an alleged “incident” that had occurred yesterday morning at Mirigama which involved the Police having to open fire. 

Meanwhile, CPRP Chairman and Attorney-at-Law (AAL) Senaka Perera also noted that Wijesekera’s lawyer had, on 12 May, informed the IGP, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Peliyagoda Special Crimes Investigations Division and the HRCSL about a suspected threat to Wijesekera’s life. 

“The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana D. Wickramaratne was informed about the threat to the life of Kosgoda Tharaka by his lawyer. The Police are supposed to look into information such as that, as they are bound to protect citizens. What were the steps that the IGP took after he received the complaint? Did the IGP get scared of someone? Is that why he didn’t take action?” 

Commenting further on what the CPRP described as the recent trend of alleged extra-judicial killings, Perera alleged that there are rumours that another suspect named “Podi Lassi” would be the next victim. 

The CPRP said it would be filing complaints at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) regarding the deaths of both Urujuwa and Kosgoda Tharaka. 

However, speaking to the media, Police Media Spokesman Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Ajith Rohana said that Kosgoda Tharaka, while in the custody of the Western Province North Crimes Division, was taken to Rendepola in Mirigama for a special Police operation. DIG Rohana claimed that an incident which had occurred there had forced the Police to use their weapons which had resulted in the death of Wijesekera. DIG Rohana also noted that a Chief Inspector of Police had also been injured during the incident and is currently receiving medical treatment. 

On 11 May, Urujuwa also died while in Police custody, where DIG Rohana said that an “incident” that occurred during a special Police operation had caused the Police to use their firearms. In a similar “incident” in October last year, Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha alias “Makandure Madush” died while in custody. The Police at the time claimed that the victim was killed in the crossfire between the Police and suspected gang members, as the latter group had allegedly attempted to get the now deceased released from Police custody. 

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