SRI LANKA: A man who sought your protection against death threats from police officers in Negombo was shot dead yesterday

(Please note that a similar letter was also sent to the Secretary to the Ministry, Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe)

September 21, 2008

Hon. Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe
Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
2, Wijerama Mawatha
Colombo 7

Fax: +94 11 269 3284 

Dear Mr. Samarasinghe,

Re: A man who sought your protection against death threats from police officers in 

The Asian Human Rights Commission is writing this to bring to your notice that Mr. S.K.A.S. Nishanta Fernando, who was a complainant in a bribery case and a torture case against several police officers in Negombo, who sought your intervention to ensure his protection against threats to his life and that of his family, was shot dead at Dalupatha Junction yesterday, 20th September 2008. 

The letter written to you and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, the ministry secretary was sent to you on June 24th 2008 and was also published by us as an open letter. The full text of the letter sent to you is attached herewith:

The AHRC did not receive any reply or even an acknowledgement of our letter from you or your ministry secretary. What action you took on this very serious request for assistance on death threats we do not know and to our knowledge the family also, has not heard from you or your ministry secretary. Even if you did take some action it has either not been heeded by anyone in authority, or has not proved to be of any effectiveness as the man was shot dead in broad daylight at 10a.m. while driving his vehicle while accompanied by his 11-year-old son.

The family, in subsequent statements to the police, as well as to the media clearly stated the names of the policemen whom they suspected of being behind this assassination. Mr. Fernando widow has also clearly stated that they have no one else?to suspect except the police officers against whom her husband was pursuing two cases for bribery and a fundamental rights case regarding torture.

You yourself, and the secretary to your ministry have been making solemn statements before the forums of the United Nations and other public forums, affirming the government commitment to provide witness protection to its citizens. However even in this simple matter where a man has directly sought your protection against death threats you have been unable to provide any form of protection to him. 

Judging by previous experience, we have reason to believe that the assistance of your ministry will now be sought to cover up this incident and to create the impression that inquiries are taking place while, in fact, impunity will be directly or indirectly assured to the perpetrators. We therefore wish to caution you against such pressure and once again, even despite of not receiving any effective response for the earlier request for protection against death threats, again we urge you to use your authority to ensure a thorough investigation into this matter. Such investigation, if it is to be done with any credibility, should be taken out of the hands of the police officers in the Negombo area, including the high ranking officers of the area, one of whom is the 1st Respondent in the fundamental rights case before the Supreme Court. Only an investigation by a competent special unit of inquiry that is not pressurised politically to protect the perpetrators, can ensure justice in this case. 

The famous Draft Bill for the Assistance and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses that was introduced to parliament in June, is still pending. Despite of the many glowing speeches of the speedy passing of this law, persons like Mr. Fernando have not lived to see the benefit of such a law. Naturally, no one can be blamed for reacting to such deaths with a cynical conviction that all such talk about witness protection is just political bluff.

Despite of all this we still appeal to you as officially, your ministry is supposed to be in charge of the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. We urge you to:

a.??To make a public statement about this case. 
b.?? To take all practical measures to ensure an independent and impartial investigation by a competent team outside the officers working in the Negombo area. 
c.??To take at least the minimum step of transferring all the officers against whom the cases are pending before the High Court of Colombo and the Supreme Court on the basis of complaints made by Mr. Fernando.

Thank you

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

Attached: A copy of the earlier letter:

Dear Mr. Samarasinghe,

Re: Save the lives of a family of torture victims facing death threats

(the following was sent as a letter to the Hon. Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights by the Asian Human Rights Commission. 

A family in Negombo has complained of death threats made against the entire family due to a complaint of bribery and a fundamental rights application filed in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. S.K.A.S Nishanta Fernando, made a complaint against an Inspector of Police (IP) who solicited a bribe of Rs. 5,000/= from him and the Bribery Commission, having investigated the complaint, filed an action against this police officer at the High Court of Colombo. Later about 12 police officers surrounded the house of Mr. Fernando and severely assaulted his wife, A.S. S. Padma Peiris, and his daughter, Dilukshi, a minor and son, Anjana, also a minor, causing severe injuries. 

The husband, wife and two children submitted a petition to the Supreme Court under the fundamental rights jurisdiction and the Supreme Court gave leave to proceed in this case. Yesterday, June 23rd, two persons made threats to the family to withdraw the fundamental rights application within 24 hours or otherwise the entire family would be killed. The family reported this matter to the Deputy Inspector General of Police at Peliyagoda yesterday.

The Asian Human Rights Commission yesterday made appeals to the chief justice, the Attorney General, the Ministry of Human Rights and Disaster Management and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to investigate into this matter and provide protection to the family.

Fundamental rights application

In the Fundamental Rights Application, 446/07, the Petitioners have stated that both the husband and wife were approached by police officers demanding that they not give evidence in the bribery case bearing case number B/424/05, against the IP.

On November 12, 2007 a police squad arrived in jeeps, motorcycles and three-wheelers and surrounded the Petitioners house. They then abused and assaulted the family members. The husband was assaulted with fists and when he fell on the floor he was kicked and trampled until he fell unconscious. The wife was hit with a pistol on her forehead close to the eye from which wound she started to bleed. Several police officers assaulted and trampled the wife even after she fell to the floor. The young daughter was slapped by a police officer and hit about the head. One police officer tried to remove her blouse, despite of her struggle against this. She then started to scream. She was dragged to the police jeep and one of the officers tried again to lift her blouse. When she screamed again she was beaten. She shouted from the window asking someone to go and inform the grandmother. And when she inquired where they were being taken a police officer replied, e are taking you to the beach to kill you.?The young son was dragged to a wall and struck about the head, face and stomach. Due to this mistreatment he lost part of a tooth and his lip was split. 

The husband regained consciousness only when he was inside the Crime division of the Negombo police station and water had been thrown over him. One police officer was shouting that this fellow had to be killed and that the SSP has said to do this. He was dragged out of the room and overheard an officer speaking over the telephone to someone, ir that is the thing that I am writing now. This fellow who is half dead now is in front of me.?Later, after their release all the members of the family sought medical treatment and the medical reports confirmed their injuries. In an application made to the Colombo High Court in the bribery case the High Court judge canceled the bail granted to the police officer who was the accused in this case. 

It was about this assault on the entire family that the fundamental rights application was made and the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed. The death threats were made against the family for the purpose of forcing them to withdraw this fundamental rights application. In an affidavit signed by Mr. Fernando he states as follows:

On 23.6.2008 at about 11 in the morning, myself and my wife were going towards the Negombo hospital in our three-wheeler bearing number 205/8052 in order to get treatment for my wife. While we were traveling in Chilaw, Colombo Road, near Dalupatha Bridge, there was a heavy goods vehicle bearing number WP-L (DOG) 5347 and the persons named Niroshan and Nimal and some others unknown to the family were there. Niroshan and Nimal signaled us to stop the three-wheeler with their arms. The driver our other three-wheeler was one Ajith and he stopped. Niroshan and Ajith put their heads into the three-wheeler and told us threateningly f you do not withdraw the human rights petition filed against the Negombo police by tomorrow morning we will kill all of you by tomorrow afternoon. The Negombo police have given us permission to kill you all.?lt;br />
We were frightened by this threat, turned our vehicle and returned home. Shortly after our return we heard some people banging our gate and two people shouting, pen the gate. If you do not withdraw the petition by tomorrow evening we will kill you all, the police have given us permission for that, open the doors.?Due to fear we did not open the gate but when we looked over the gate we saw Niroshan and Nimal whose names we do not know, hitting the gate. We clearly identified Niroshan and Nimal. A little later this group left in their vehicle. We have hear that this Niroshan is an army deserter. These threats have been made against us to force us to withdraw the fundamental rights petition we have filed at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. We made a complaint at the office of the DIG crimes at Peliyagoda and the complaint bears number SIIV 345/266.

As they have threatened to kill us we are afraid to live in our house and we request that protection for our lives be provided and the conditions for the carrying out of our ordinary business be restored to us. 

This incident is just a mirror of what is happening today in Sri Lanka, even in those areas which are far away from any conflict zone. Negombo is situated close to the main airport of the country and just a few miles away from the capital, Colombo. The incident, beginning with the soliciting of the bribe, to the torture of a whole family, and now the making of death threats has taken place within this locality where there are check points with heavy police and military presence. The lives of the ordinary people are so disturbed by this type of threat constantly and complaints made to state agencies produce little, if any change in the situation. The famous case of the assassination of Gerard Perera, which also took place within this same vicinity, has become the symbol of the terrible fear that the people have to live with under the present circumstances.

Complaining about the police or other state agencies about bribery, torture or anything else, has become a dangerous exercise. Not only do these officers enjoy impunity for the wrongs they do, but they can also kill or harm those who complain against them. Complaining about violations of rights has become an offense that may carry capital punishment by unofficial means. 

Under these circumstances we urge you to take the following steps for the protection of these persons as your ministry is named also, the Ministry for Human Rights:

1.??Immediately investigate this matter through an independent police unit from outside the Negombo area, preferable through the Special Investigating Unit, which used to investigate torture related complaints. 
2.??Take immediate steps to provide protection for this family by assigning this task to a responsible unit who should take responsibility for the lives of the members of this family. 
3.??Until the problem is resolved take steps to provide alternative residence for the family with special protection for the wife and the two young children who are still minors. 
4.??Take steps to ensure prosecution of the offenders relating to the complaint of torture made earlier and narrated above and also for the making of death threats, including instigating criminal elements against this family.

Under the circumstances it would be natural to hold your ministry and other state agencies who have been informed of these threats responsible if any harm befalls any member of this family. 

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

MOON Jeong Ho
Programme Officer
Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-022-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings,