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SRI LANKA: Another complainant in a torture case shot dead

September 19, 2008
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Prompt enquiries from a competent and independent special police unit needs to be conducted into to the assassination of Siyaguna Kosgodage Anton Sugath Nishantha Fernando, who was a complainant in a torture case before of the Supreme Court and a bribery case before the High Court against several police officers attached to the Negombo Police Station.

Nishantha Fernando, who had made complaints of torture and bribery against a senior police officer and several other police officers, was shot dead today, 20th September 2008, at Dalupotha junction, Negombo. He was shot at around 10 a.m. and was rushed to the Negombo hospital where he has been pronounced dead. He was driving his van accompanied by his 11 year old son when two persons travelling on a motorbike came from behind and shot him. The assassin fell from the motorbike but mangaged to remount and then and then fled towards Chilaw. Fortunately, the son was unharmed.

Nishantha Fernando had repeatedly complained to the Inspector General of Police and all local authorities, including the Attorney General, the National Police Commission (NPC) and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and also to the bribery commission, about the constant threats he had been receiving of assassination of himself and his family. On the 23rd of June 2008 four men, believed to be hired by the police, arrived at his house and told him to withdraw the fundamental rights complaint currently pending before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, stating that if within 24 hours he did not do so , he and his family would be assassinated. He and his family immediately went into hiding and informed the all the relevant authorities of the threat. The Asian Human Rights Commission also published the story of the threats widely. He returned to his home after a long period in hiding only recently.

The initial complaint of Nishantha Fernando was against police inspector Mahagamage Dharmadasa for soliciting a bribe of 5,000 rupees (about 46 USD). The Bribery Commission inquired into the matter and filed a prosecution before the High Court of Colombo, bearing number Bribery/1658/2006. Following the arrest of policemen, about 12 police officers from Negombo attacked the whole family (wife and two children) and seriously injured them. Thereafter Nishantha Fernando was brought to the Negombo Police Station and further tortured. A case bearing number SCFR.446/07 was filed against twelve police officers in Negombo regarding this assault. The Supreme Court granted leave proceed in the case. Now the case is before the Supreme Court for its final hearing.

Nishantha Fernando and his family had taken all the precautions for their safety and asked all the authorities to provide protection for him and his family. The Inspector General of Police has written back to the human rights organisations saying that inquiries were being conducted into this matter. However, this daylight killing of the complainant of a torture case and a bribery case clearly indicates the utter negligence of the police authorities in protecting him. Despite of two cases pending before the Supreme Court and the High Court, none of the police officers were transferred from the police station and thus they were placed in an advantageous position to take their revenge from a citizen who had dared to complain against them.

In the earlier case of Gerald Perera, a torture victim who was due to give evidence before the High Court against a sub inspector of police and several other police officers who were formally attached to the Negombo Police Station, was shot dead while travelling on a bus. The sub inspector and another lay accomplice have been charged with murder in that case, and several of the police officers have, on their own, given voluntary confessions to the Magistrate at Wattala about what they knew about the murder. However, in the torture case against the police officers, they were all acquitted by the High Court Judge, who, while holding that the torture took place at the Wattala Police Station, acquitted the accused as there was no eyewitness to the torture.

The Sri Lankan government has agreed with the Human Rights Council to enact a witness protection. The Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights introduced this act several months back to the parliament. However, it has not been passed. There is no statutory authority take prompt action in order to deal with the request by witnesses who complained about threats to their lives. There is a callous disregard to all such requests which virtually creates confidence in errant police officers to take revenge their opponents in this manner. The responsibility for providing witness protection is with the Inspector General of Police but there is nothing on record to show that he has not acted in a manner to encourage attacks on the witnesses.

There is fear now, quite legitimate under the circumstances, that the inquiry into this murder will be hushed up. There are so many ways of sabotaging inquiry into murders in which the alleged suspects are the police.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the Inspector General of Police to initiate prompt and effective investigation into this matter with a special team of competent and impartial police officers. Leaving the investigation to the Negombo police station or to any of the higher authorities of the police in charge of this area would mean to give opportunity to tamper with evidence and to destroy the possibility of prosecution in this case. The higher authorities of police in the Negombo area were aware of the cases before the Supreme Court and the High Court against the police officers and about the complaints made by Nishantha Fernando and his family of threats to their lives. However, these authorities did nothing to protect him. Therefore to leave the inquiries in the hands of these persons would not create a belief that a credible and an impartial inquiry will be held into this case.

We also urge the United Nations Rapporteurs on Torture and on Extra-judicial Killings and all other relevant mechanisms to take up this case as a matter of priority and demand a proper inquiry into this killing. We also urge the local human rights community and the media to take up this matter as it raises fundamental issues regarding protection of human rights in Sri Lanka. We also urge the international human rights organisations to proactively pursue this case.

For further details see http://www.ahrchk.net/pr/mainfile.php/2008mr/535/ and http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2008/2911/

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