By Raisa Wickrematunge-Angry residents surrounded the police station in Dematagoda, demanding justice for a man who died in police custody.
Crowds opposite Dematagoda police station demanding justice for a man who died in police custody
Angry residents surrounded the police station in Dematagoda, demanding justice for a man who died in police custody.
The residents insisted that 44-year-old Kannapillaiyam Shekar was a victim of police brutality. “One of our sons was taken in at 7 pm… by 4 am, he was dead,” one of the protesters said in anger.
But the police insist that there was no foul play involved. Shekar died of a heart attack, police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said. He was arrested for possessing 800 milligrams of heroin, and had been detained for drug-related offences in the past as well, he added.
Meanwhile Vignesh, the nephew of the deceased, spoke to the media at the protest, relating the events, which led to his uncle’s untimely death.
It had all started with a function, which the family, including Shekar had attended on Sunday evening (2). Suddenly four policemen, two of them in civilian clothes, arrived on the scene about 8:30 pm, and viciously assaulted Shekar.
“The cops beat our uncle and took him away,” nephew Vignesh said. Later on, the police had asked Shekar’s relatives to bring some medicine for their uncle. A friend had then taken medicine to the Dematagoda police station around 2 am, at which point the Officer in Charge had asked to meet with the family. When the family went back around 6:30 am, they were told the shocking news that Shekar was dead.
While an officer in charge tried to calm the angry crowds and explain what happened, (he said the heavy usage of heroin had enlarged and weakened the victim’s heart) some of the residents remained unconvinced of the explanation and accused the police of foul play, loudly jeering as the officer walked away.
Oddly, Shekar was not the only person who died while in the custody of police in the recent past. 24-year-old Madushanka Alwis, a resident of Kottawa was also found dead along the Pannipitiya road on May 31, the police media unit confirmed. Alwis was reportedly a father of one. Once again, residents of Kottawa claimed that Alwis died as a result of police brutality. However, the police maintain that Alwis also died of a heart attack. “The National Hospital of Colombo conducted a post mortem on June 1, and it was recorded that the man died as a result of a heart attack,” the police media unit said, speaking to The Sunday Leader.
The Judicial Medical Officer at the Colombo National Hospital was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.
Shekar and Alwis are by no means the first suspects to die while in the hands of the police.
In fact, there have been a veritable slew of suspects who have died while in custody.
Recently, it was reported that a Bulathsinhala resident fell to his death off a precipice while in police custody on June 7. The suspect was accused of killing a mother in the Pitigala area and raping her daughter. He was in the Bambarawana area in Pitigala with police on June 7 to show police where he had hidden the murder weapon when he attempted to flee and fell off the precipice, police said.
Meanwhile, on June 2, another suspect died while in the custody of the Habaraduwa police. The man was first apprehended on May 25 on drug-related charges as well as for theft. He was brought before the Galle Magistrate and further remanded, but died of an illness while in prison. Crowds, including the deceased’s family, transported the man’s body to the Habaraduwa police station, claiming that the man had died at the hands of the police. However, the police said in a statement that the Judicial Medical Officer L. B. M. Fernando had ruled that the cause of death was in fact pneumonia.
Two years ago, on October 3, 2011, Chamarange Hannadige Lalith Susantha was pronounced dead on admission at the Panadura hospital. Susantha was a suspect in the brutal hacking to death of a policeman, and agreed to show police where the murder weapon was hidden. On the Bolgoda Lake, Susantha, who was handcuffed, had suddenly pushed a Navy officer out of the boat, and then jumped in after him, according to police spokesman at the time, Maxi Proctor. Yet Susantha’s cousin speaking to The Sunday Leader at the time said, ‘one of us has been killed by the police.’ Susantha’s body was not released to the grieving relatives – who said Susantha had not known the man he attacked was a police officer as he was dressed in civilian clothing.
Around the same time, on September 29, 2011, 27-year-old Ganniarachchi Appuhamilage Gayan Rasanga was arrested, suspected of transporting a stolen water pump. His father, P. A. Leelananda, says he saw his son strung up and brutally beaten in the police barracks, and heard his son’s screams, but was powerless to do anything. The next day, the family learned that Ganniarachchi was dead. The official cause of death, according to police, was that Ganniarachchi died when he jumped out of a vehicle travelling at a moderate speed. In anger, the residents attacked the Dompe police station the next day, destroying vehicles and starting fires. Five policemen were remanded in the aftermath of the incident.
Let’s not forget the horrific 2009 case of B. Sivakumar, a 26-year-old mentally handicapped man who was drowned in the Bambalapitiya sea. Several TV news stations recorded the incident on tape, showing a police officer and some others beating Sivakumar mercilessly with a pole and refusing to let him come ashore.
Apart from these instances, there are also disturbing allegations of suspects being tortured or assaulted at the hands of police.
On May 27, for instance, M. M. D. Aruna Nilupul Indika, an interior decorator was apprehended by Matugama police, the prime suspect in stealing an electric grinder. According to a statement made to the Human Rights Commission, Indika said three policemen held him down and dripped chilli oil made from kochchi chillies into his eyes and on his genitals, telling him if he did not confess to the theft they would beat him badly. He was tortured for several hours before a friend intervened by complaining to the Superintendent of Police who was visiting at the time. At the same time, a man reportedly accused of stealing cinnamon claimed that he was assaulted by Karandeniya police. The suspect, Chandila Padmakumara, said his arms were badly injured. He denied any involvement in the theft, although a cinnamon vendor said Padmakumara had been identified through CCTV footage. Padmakumara said his hands were tied and he was beaten for two days. He was also stripped naked, hung from the ceiling and assaulted, he charged.
These are just a few high profile cases – and they are by no means isolated incidents. At the very least, they point to a disturbing trend, with several suspects and their families pointing an accusing finger at the police. It is also notable that only in two of these incidents (the Dompe killing and the much-publicised incident in Bambalapitiya) was an investigation carried out which saw policemen remanded.
This certainly paints the events in Kottawa and Dematagoda in a new light. And while the police are adamant that both Madushanka Alwis and Kannapillaiyam Shekar died of natural causes, the angry crowd outside the Dematagoda police station remained unconvinced.
Timeline Of Incidents Of Death Or Assault In Police Custody
June 7: A resident of Bulathsinhala falls off a precipice while showing police where he had hidden a murder weapon – the suspect was accused of killing a mother and raping her daughter June 3: 44-year-old Kannapillaiyam Shekar dies in police custody, arrested for possession of 800 miligrammes of heroin. Official cause of death – heart attack, but residents insist Shekar was killed.
June 2: A man dies while in the custody of Habaraduwa police. The man had been accused of drug possession and theft. The deceased’s family and residents in the area took the man’s body outside the police station and staged a demonstration, saying the man was killed by police. However the JMO ruled that the official cause of death was pneumonia.
May 31: 24-year-old Madushanka Alwis found dead on Pannipitiya road, official cause of death heart attack, residents cry foul play.
May 27: Interior decorator M. M. D. Aruna Nilupul Indika says he was tortured by Matugama police. Indika was suspected by a lawyer of stealing an electric grinder.
October 3, 2011: Chamarange Hannadige Lalith Susantha pronounced dead on admission at Panadura hospital. Susantha reportedly jumped into the Bolgoda Lake when showing police where a murder weapon was hidden. Susantha was accused in the brutal killing of a police officer.
September 30, 2011: 27-year-old Ganniarachchi Appuhamilage Gayan Rasanga dies while in police custody in Dompe. Ganniarachchi was accused of transporting a stolen water pump.
Police claimed he jumped from a moving police vehicle. Angry residents stormed the Dompe police station, demanding justice, and five policemen were subsequently remanded, including the OIC Crimes Division
October 29, 2009: B. Sivakumaran, a mentally handicapped person, is drowned as policemen mercilessly assault him with a pole, refusing to let him come back to shore until he drowns. Four policemen were remanded following the incident, and one of the accused, a police constable attached to Bambalapitiya, died following a brief illness.