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Murder most foul


COLOMBO: The death of 55-year-old Sunil Fermin Perera of Pita Kotte, subsequent to his arrest and being remanded along with his assistant Gamini Munaweera, is a chilling and horrendous story that will scare any law abiding citizen despite torture, assaults and death of suspects in police and prison custody being a frequent occurrence.

The businessman and his assistant were arrested for allegedly making a telephone call to a school in Ratnapura on June 28 saying that there was a bomb placed in the school premises. It was a day when rumours of terrorist attacks on schools were abound. The very same day, Sunil Perera and his assistant were arrested, and the next day produced in Ratnapura Courts and remanded.

On Tuesday Perera was carried from a prison van into courts and released because it was clear that the alleged telephone call had not been made from his phone. His wife brought him to Colombo and warded him at the Colombo National Hospital. On Thursday he died in hospital. His assistant had also been warded at the same hospital for injuries allegedly sustained following assaults by prison officials.

Six days after a perfectly healthy man was taken from his home by the police for questioning, he was dead. Who is responsible? An open verdict has been returned. The people will await the outcome of investigations not only because of the allegations of extreme brutality being made against prison officials but also for allegations being made that the suspects while being assaulted were asked to implicate UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and two other UNPers Sirisena Cooray and Ravi Karunanayake as having inspired the alleged offending call.

In the first instance, this is a case of monkeys attempting to play with typewriters or as the pithy Sri Lankan aphorism goes: Monkey drinking chilli water. The false allegation could have been squashed right at the beginning had police investigators called on the telephone company to verify whether a call had been made from Sunil Perera’s phone. Only about three days after the arrest — after the deceased’s wife Chitra Perera obtained the record of the telephone bill from the company — was the police convinced that the two men were innocent. Whether the police were ignorant of these elementary facts regarding mobile phones or not needs to be investigated.

Gamini Munaweera, the surviving witness, says that apart from some harsh language used on them by the police, they did not assault them. But from the very moment they entered the Kuruwita Remand Prison they had been subjected to inhuman treatment and assault. The two men were forced to pull down their trousers and assaulted and kicked with broomsticks and sticks. They had been kicked in their faces and necks and on their soles and asked to kneel down. On the second day too they were subjected to similar treatment and been walked on by the jailors wearing heavy boots.

If these allegations are true, several questions arise. Why should prison guards subject these two accused to such inhuman and degrading treatment when interrogation of suspects was not a part of their duties? Was it sheer misguided patriotic fervour (jathi aalaya), for perverse delight in attacking helpless remand prisoners who had been placed in their custody or for some other sinister purpose? Whatever the purposes may have been, a person has died following alleged assaults while being in their custody.

The remand prisoner, Sunil Perera on the day of his release had been too sick to walk from the prison van to courts where he was released. Why didn’t the prison authorities produce him before a medical officer? His wife had told the media that she had seen him being carried within the prison when she visited him. Surely it was the basic duty of prison officials to provide medical treatment to those in their custody?

The allegations made call for a complete investigation into the working of the Kuruvita Remand Prison. Do supervisory prison officials not keep security checks on the jails under them? Are they not responsible for the safety of prisoners placed in their custody? This particularly applies to remand prisoners who may be thrown into jail because of police misdemeanour such as in this case.

Independent and impartial investigators are called for to inquire into this death which most probably is a homicide. The allegation that attempts to implicate UNP leaders needs special attention particularly because of the current tempo of politics. An innocent law abiding citizen had been killed for no fault of his and his assistant suffered grievous wounds.

An attempt is being made to project that the suspect died because of alcoholism. This is the worst possible insult that can be cast on a dead law abiding citizen, a father of three children. Let justice be done. Let the Mahinda Chinthana also extend to human rights of people — ordinary people who are not concerned with politics.

The newly appointed Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe at a press conference held recently explained a circular to commanders of the forces on the rights of detainees. Apparently, there is still a very long way to go for Samarasinghe to achieve his objectives. Meanwhile, let the Mahinda Rajapakse Chinthana inspire police officials to observe the basic tenets of all religions such as the panchaseela and the provisions of the Penal Code, which we are all bound to follow.