SRI LANKA: Custodial Death of Sunil Hemachandra

Sunil Hemechanra was arrested on the night of 23 July by the Morahahena police and his family alleged that when they visited him the next morning he was unconscious and bleeding from the nose. After some intervention he was taken to a hospital, where he was immediately taken for surgery. He died the morning of the 26th.

The post-mortem for this case was fixed for July 27. However, the officer in charge did not show up and it was postponed until 27th on which date again the officer did not show up. On both these dates the medical officer who was to perform the inquiry was Assistant Judicial Medical Officer Ratnayake. It was known that a different medical officer would on duty the following day.  The officer in charge of the police station finally showed up and the inquiry was held by a different medical officer. At end of the inquiry, the family asked inquirer of his finding and was told ” Go to court and you will be told” However. he newspapers reported on the 30th that the medical officer has expressed that death was caused by head injuries due to a fall. The victim’s family are suspicious of this verdict, just as they were suspicious of the earlier post-mortem postponements. They demand a fresh post-mortem by an independent medical officer.

The circumstances of this case as summed up by the Director of Investigation from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in a letter to the Inspector General of Police is as follows:

“Sunil Hemechandra of AKKEARA 72, Kidelpitiya, Millaeva was arrested on 23 of July 2003 by Morahahena Police and was assaulted by police and later taken to Horana Hospital, which transferred him to General Hospital, Colombo.  While being treated at the intensive care unit of the General Hospital in Colombo, he died on 26-07-2003.

Sunil Hemechandra had won a lottery worth Rs 300,000 (three hundred thousand) about three weeks back. Officers from Morahahahena Police demanded money from him. The complaint made states that since Sunil refused to give the money, this was done to him by way of revenge.

We have come to know that ASP Horana has been appointed to conduct the inquiry into this death. The Complainant objects to this inquiry being conducted by him. To ensure the inquiry is conducted in an independent and impartial manner, I request for the appointment of an officer from outside this area.” (Translated from Sinhala)

This is not the first occasion that victims’ families have expressed dissatisfaction with the way post-mortem inquiries are conducted.

Even under the present circumstances, how a healthy male who was 28 years old came about a fall so hard as to cause serious head injuries at the police station, which required immediate surgery and resulted in death, needs to be explained. The present finding does not negate the complaints made by the victim’s family. In fact, previous attempts to extortion after the deceased won a lottery for Rs.300,000 (US$30,000), will cast doubts on the story of the same officers who arrested Sunil and in whose custody he died.
The family’s call for justice falls on deaf ears, reminding one of a comment the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka made recently, regarding the careless disregard by the Inspector General of Police towards the complaints of torture committed by the police:

“The number of credible complaints of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment whilst in Police custody shows no decline. The duty imposed by Article 4(d) to respect, secure and advance fundamental rights, including freedom from torture, extends to all organs of government, and the Head of the Police can claim no exemption. At least, he may make arrangements for surprise visits by specially appointed Police officers, and/or officers and representatives of the Human Rights Commission, and/or local community leaders who would be authorized to interview and to report on the treatment and conditions of detention of persons in custody. A prolonged failure to give effective directions designed to prevent violations of Article 11, and to ensure the proper investigation of those which nevertheless take place followed by disciplinary or criminal proceedings, may well justify the inference of acquiescence and condonation (if not also of approval and authorization).” Justice Mark Fernando-(SCFR. 328/2002)-Gerald Perera’s Case.

Asian Human Rights Commission calls for a full and thorough inquiry into this allegation of torture, murder and extortion; calls for the immediate suspension of all involved officers and their prosecution under Sri Lanka’s law against Torture ( Act No.22 of 1994); and calls upon the National Police Commission to take effective action regarding this case and all other complaints against the routine practice of torture by the Sri Lankan Police.

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC
Unit 4, 7th Floor, Mongkok Commercial Centre
16 Argyle Street, Kowloon
Hong Kong SAR, CHINA
Tel: +(852) 2698-6339
Fax:+(852) 2698-6367
Web site:

For media contacts after office hours, please contact through: +(852) 26969130 (Basil Fernando) or +(852) 92505990 (Sanjeewa Liyanage)

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-25-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Torture,