SRI LANKA: Permanent loss of sight in one eye due to cruel and inhuman treatment

A young man is now in the Colombo Eye Hospital having permanently lost his sight in one eye due to acid being thrown in his face while he was in police custody. The police, acting in connivance with a truck driver, arrested him and beat him severely while the truck driver threw the acid at his face. He was kept for several days at the police station with his injuries unattended despite of all attempts by the family to have him taken to a hospital. The eye injury could have been reduced if he was given timely medical treatment. This is yet another case of illegal arrest, illegal detention, torture and allowing a third party to throw acid on a person who was in police custody.

Dodampe Gamage Asantha Aravinda and K.J. Thusara Chaminda were young friends and they set out on a scooter bearing No. SPTF 1330 to go towards the house of a relative in the Pitabaddara area. As the relative they were visiting was not yet at home they went to refuel the scooter. At around 5:30 p.m. they passed a truck bearing No. 227 7805. The driver of this vehicle alighted from the truck and crossed the road without checking for oncoming traffic. As the scooter was passing this driver’s hand slightly touched the scooter’s rear view mirror upon which the driver was very angry and there was some exchange of words between the parties. The driver thereafter, said that, “You go ahead and let us see.” The two young people ignored this and continued their journey. However, not long thereafter the truck pursued them from behind and struck the scooter. Due to the impact, Aravinda was thrown some distance from the scene of the collision.

When he managed to get up and return he saw that Thusara Chaminda and the scooter both lying beneath the truck. The driver got out of the truck ran away from the scene. Aravindra pulled his friend out from under the truck and found that Thusara Chaminda was bleeding severely from an injury to his leg.

Aravindra tried to find a vehicle to take Thusara Chaminda to a hospital but could not find one. He left Thusara Chaminda near a house where he also kept the damaged scooter and went looking for a three-wheeler to take his friend to the hospital. As he was searching a taxi stopped from which some people alighted and claimed that they were from the Pitabaddara Police Station in the Mathara District. Among the group was the driver of the truck and the group had guns in their hands. The truck driver went forward and said, “You are the one who collided with my truck,” and started beating him. Thereafter, Aravindra’s hands were tied behind his back and his legs were also tied and he was then beaten. The police officers picked him up and dropped him several times. When Aravindra fell in the gutter they pulled him out and continued beating him.

Aravindra called for water and then the truck driver took a bottle, put something into a cup and gave it to him to drink. Aravindra soon realised that he had been given acid. He shouted asking, “Isn’t it acid that you have given me to drink.” The truck driver said, “So you can’t drink it,” and threw the acid into his face; the liquid also spread to his eyes. Aravindra then shouted in pain. By this time someone also brought Thusara Chaminda to the same place and he was also beaten by the police officers. The officers who were identified as those carried out the assaults are the Officer-in-Charge of the police station, Karunasena. (This officer passed away some time after this incident), Police Sergeant Athapathu (21899), Police Constable Gamini (5881), Police Constable Sugath, (3089) and some other officers.

Aravindra and Thusara Chaminda were taken to the police station and the truck driver arrived later with some liquor. The Officer-in-Charge of the police station and the driver opened the police cell and assaulted the two friends again. When Aravindra shouted in pain because the acid burns and with the further pain of the beating some police officers came and poured liquor on the burns.

Aravindra’s father learned about the incident at around 11 p.m. that day and went to the Pitabaddara Police Station, in Matara District to see his son and Thusara Chaminda. Several other friends and family members of the two young men also arrived. However, they were refused permission to see Aravindra and Thusara Chaminda. Aravindra’s father, with his wife and younger son went to see him on the morning of the next day but were not allowed to meet him. The family was not even allowed to bring food and drink to the two men. At around 11 a.m. Aravindra’s father arrived at the station with the president of the Provincial Council but once again permission to see the two young men was refused. The police told the father that some local people had assaulted Aravindra and thrown some acid at him and that there have discovered a gun in the possession of Thusara Chaminda. Aravindra’s father insisted that since his son had not committed any offense he wanted to see him. When they were again refused the father pleaded with the police to take Aravindra to a hospital. The officers replied that they would do that soon.

Aravindra’s father went to the station several times during the day to renew his request that his son be taken to the hospital but the officers refused to do so. Aravindra’s father kept on trying on the next day and he saw that at around 3.p.m. Aravindra and Thusara Chaminda were taken out and shown to some cameramen and journalists. The Officer-in-Charge asked Aravindra to remove his shirt and then his father saw that the left side of his chest showed severe burn marks. There were also wounds on one of Thusara Chaminda’s legs. The cameramen took pictures of both from various angles. Thereafter, the Officer-in-Charge of the station ordered Aravindra’s father to pay for the photographers. He paid Rs. 175/= to the cameramen through Sergent Athapathu. Thereafter the two young men were taken back to the cell.

Aravindra’s father contacted a lady Attorney-at-Law and she made a telephone call to the police station. The lawyer was told that now these two persons would be taken to the hospital. Later someone called to Aravindra’s father by a mobile phone and told him that the two men had been taken to Moravoka Hospital. However, when he went to the hospital he could not find either of them so he returned to the police station. There a police officer approached Aravindra’s father and said, “You better go away otherwise somebody may kill you.” He replied that, “Even if I am killed I will not move away.”

At about 7 p.m. Aravindra and Thusara Chaminda were put in a police vehicle and Aravindra shouted to his father, “Please don’t go home they may kill us.” At this the father replied that he would not leave but would follow them. The police car took the two people to the Mathara Hospital. Aravindra was hospitalised at Ward No. 24. He was treated there up to the 5th March. During this time his father talked to the specialist doctor who was treating his son. The doctor stated that due to delayed treatment the situation of Aravindra’s eye was serious and that he had lost the sight in that eye completely.

On the 3rd April an operation was performed on the eye. After this the situation became even worse and he was transferred from the Mathara hospital to the Colombo Eye Hospital. By then Aravindra had completely lost his sight in one eye and his hearing in one ear had also deteriorated. Aravindra is still taking treatment at the Colombo Eye Hospital.

Meanwhile the Pitabaddara Police has filed charges against Aravindra and Thusara Chaminda for possessing a fire arm, attempting to shoot some person and attempting to engage in a robbery.

No action has been taken against the truck driver and the police officers for their actions in throwing acid as well as severely beating Aravindra and Thusara Chamindra. Also no inquiry has yet been taken for keeping Aravindra and Thusara Chamindra for two weeks at the police station beyond the 24 hours permitted by the law, thus preventing them from getting medical treatment for their serious injuries.

So far there have been no inquiries into the conduct of the police in this case. The truck driver also remains at large. Meanwhile despite attempts by the families of the two victims no action has been taken by way of redress. Added to the injuries they also now suffer from being charged on fabricated offenses.


The behaviour of the police team

An Inspector of Police accompanied by the truck driver and together with several other police officers came looking for Aravindra. The moment they saw him they caught hold of him, assaulted him severely, and even tied his hands and feet. If the police party had come, acting on the basis of a complaint to arrest Aravindra if would have been their duty to make the arrest and then explain the charges. If they wanted to find anything they could have questioned him quietly to discover as to whether they had a prima facie case to proceed. With the overwhelming power of a group of armed policemen they had no reason at all to fear that their suspect might be in a position to escape. Had they quietly questioned him they could have got to know about the earlier accident they may have even been able to assist Thusara Chaminda, who was suffering from the injury to his leg and take him to an appropriate place for treatment. What should concern the higher ranking police officer now is to examine the behaviour of this police party during this incident.


The police party severely beat up Aravindra first and later Thusara Chaminda. Under the law the police do not have any such powers. Did they do this in order to please the truck driver for whom they owed some obligation for one reason or another?

Attempting to force the drinking of acid and later throwing of acid on the face of Aravindra

Whilst Aravindra was completely under the control of the police party, when he asked for water, in the presence of the police party, he was given acid to drink. When he refused to drink it the acid was thrown in his face. Both these acts are serious criminal acts, not only by the truck driver but also by the police party who had complete control of Aravindra. Besides the criminal aspect what should concern the high ranking officers are the complete inhumanity and the cruelty of this act. How is it possible that a group of law enforcement officers could behave in this manner?

Arrest for several days and denial of medical treatment

Aravindra and Chaminda were both kept in the Pitabaddara Police Station police station for several days. This itself is illegal as the time allowed for producing them before a magistrate is 24 hour, if, in fact, there was a charge to investigate. What is worse is that Aravindra was suffering from injuries due to the acid attack and these injuries were serious. Anyone could have noticed an injury to the eye and could have known that this could lead to serious consequences. However, they were held for several days despite of the attempts by the families of the two suspects to have them sent to a hospital.

Fabrication of charges

When the suspects were finally sent for medical treatment due to the pressure of the family pressure they were charged with the serious offenses including possession of a firearm. These charges can lead to refusal of bail as well as serious punishments.

Similarity to other incidents

While allowing a person to force another to drink acid and throwing acid on someone who is police custody may be exceptional, the gang behaviour of the police, arrest of persons without proper inquiry, assaulted persons without asking a single question, refusal to provide prompt medical attention when needed and fabrication of charges are common occurrences in Sri Lanka. These have been demonstrated through hundreds of other cases which have come before the Supreme Court by way of fundamental rights application, complaints that have come for investigation under the CAT Act, Act No. 22 of 1994, complaints before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the National Police Commission and by way of extensive documentation made by human rights organisations. Thus, there is a pattern of gang behaviour during arrests and assaults and other forms of irresponsibility on the part of the Sri Lankan police.

The responsibility of higher ranking police officers

It was the duty of the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) to have looked into this case while the two suspects were already in the custody of the police station. It was also his duty to inquire into the matter thereafter. However, there is hardly any evidence that such actions have been initiated by the relevant ASP.

What now

It is the duty of the Sri Lankan police including the Inspector General of Police to initiate immediate inquiries into this matter and to take all appropriate actions to provide redress and compensation to the victims and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-199-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Inhuman & degrading treatment,