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SRI LANKA: Innocent man illegally detained for two and half month on mistaken identity by Anamaduwa police

April 27, 2011

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION-URGENT APPEAL PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-084-2011



27 April 2011
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SRI LANKA: Innocent man illegally detained for two and half month on mistaken identity by Anamaduwa police

ISSUES: Illegal arrest; arbitrary detention; impunity; rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that Mr. Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Keerthirathna (48) of Surakkulama, Mundalama in the Puttlam district suffered a chronic illness as a result of a serious traffic accident several years ago. He was illegally arrested and detained by police officers attached to the Anamaduwa Police Station on 18 January 2011. Keerathirathna was produced before the Magistrate's Court of Puttalam and remanded until 7 July 2011. Later the relatives learned that police officers had arrested Keerthirathna on mistaken identity with an outdated warrant issued by the same court. Further they learned that the particular suspect of the warrant had already appeared before the court and had been enlarged on bail. Keerthirathna and his relatives complained to the relevant authorities seeking justice but have not received any response. Keerthirathna still has to face the hearing on 7 July 2011. This case is yet another illustration of the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in the country.

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to the information received by the Asian Human Rights Commission Mr. Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Keerthirathna (48) of Surakkulama, Mundalama in the Puttalam district is a farmer by profession. Keerathirathna faced a serious traffic accident several years earlier in which he suffered head injuries. He was subsequently treated for several months. Following his recovery from the superficial injuries he started having periods where, without warning he would lose consciousness. Due to this he was considered by his fellow villagers as a person with a disability.

AHRC-UAC-084-2011On 18 January 2011 at around 2 pm a police officer by the name of Premarathna of the Anamaduwa Police (who was in civilian clothes at the time) came to his home and informed him that the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the police station wanted Keerathirathna to appear before him. He then tried to take him to the police station by the motor bicycle on which he came. However, the villagers surrounded him and protested informing the officer that Keerathirathna is chronic patient and had never committed any crime. Upon hearing this Officer Premarathna informed Keerthirathna to go to the police station the next morning.

Keerthirathna reported to the same officer at the police station with one of his uncles at around 8 am the next day and without explanation he was immediately detained in a cell. Neither Keerthirathna nor his uncle was given reason for his arrest or detention. Later in the evening Keerthirathna was produced before the Magistrate at his official residence and remanded until 7 July 2011. He was first brought to the Puttalam Prison and then to the Negombo Prison. In the prison Keerthirathna's situation became serous and prison officers first admitted him to the Base Hospital, Negombo and he was then transferred to the National Hospital of Colombo for further treatment. Keerthirathna was treated there for a period more than one month.

Meanwhile his brother Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Senarathna who lives with him tried to find the reason for Keerathirathna's arrest. He inquired of the register of the Puttalam Magistrate Court where he learned that Keerathirathna has been arrested by the police officers attached to the Anamaduwa Police while they are searching a person named in the warrant issued in case number MC/53886/A/10 by the Magistrate Court of Puttalam. He further learned that in that case the 6th suspect was Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Keerthi Jayarathna and he had already appeared before the Magistrate and been released on bail. Senarathna then met an Attorney-at-Law and sought his representation in court to have Keerthirathna released. However, the explained that he was erroneously arrested and detained and therefore there was no need to appear for him.

Then Senarathna complained to the Assistance Superintendent of Police (ASP) Puttalam, the Superintendent of Police Puttalam, the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission on the violation of the fundamental rights of Keerathirathna but none of these authorities have started an investigation yet.

Keerthirathna and his relatives are still waiting for justice to be done in his case. He is seeking independent investigation and prosecution against the perpetrators of the violation of his rights.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported innumerable cases of the torturing of innocent persons by the Sri Lankan police which is illegal under international and local law that have taken place at different Police stations in the country over the past few years.

The State of Sri Lanka signed and ratified the CAT on 3 January 1994. Following state obligations Sri Lanka adopted Act number 22 of 1994 the law adopted by the Sri Lankan parliament making torture a crime that can be punishable for minimum seven years and not less than ten years on being proven guilty. The Attorney General of Sri Lanka is suppose to file indictments in the case where credible evidence were found on torturing people by state officers.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this case and requesting an immediate investigation into the allegations of illegal arrest, illegal detention, torturing by the police perpetrators, and the prosecution of those proven to be responsible under the criminal law of the country for misusing powers of a state. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department. Further, please also request the NPC and the IGP to have a special investigation into the malpractices of the police officers for abusing the state officers' powers.

Please note that the AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on this regard.

To support this appeal please click here:  

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ________,

SRI LANKA: Innocent man illegally detained for two and half month on mistaken identity by Anamaduwa police

Name of the victim: Mr. Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Keerthirathna (48) of Surakkulama, Mundalama in the Puttlam district
Alleged perpetrator: Police officer Pramarathna and police officers attached to the Police Station of Anamaduwa
Date of incident: 18 January 2011
Place of incident: Anamaduwa Police Station

I am writing to express my serious concern over the case of Mr. Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Keerthirathna (48) of Surakkulama, Mundalama in the Puttalam district. According to the information received by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Mr. Keerthirathna is a farmer by profession. Keerathirathna faced a serious traffic accident several years earlier in which he suffered head injuries. He was subsequently treated for several months. Following his recovery from the superficial injuries he started having periods where, without warning he would lose consciousness. Due to this he was considered by his fellow villagers as a person with a disability.

On 18 January 2011 at around 2 pm a police officer by the name of Premarathna of the Anamaduwa Police (who was in civilian clothes at the time) came to his home and informed him that the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the police station wanted Keerathirathna to appear before him. He then tried to take him to the police station by the motor bicycle on which he came. However, the villagers surrounded him and protested informing the officer that Keerathirathna is chronic patient and had never committed any crime. Upon hearing this Officer Premarathna informed Keerthirathna to go to the police station the next morning.

Keerthirathna reported to the same officer at the police station with one of his uncles at around 8 am the next day and without explanation he was immediately detained in a cell. Neither Keerthirathna nor his uncle was given reason for his arrest or detention. Later in the evening Keerthirathna was produced before the Magistrate at his official residence and remanded until 7 July 2011. He was first brought to the Puttalam Prison and then to the Negombo Prison. In the prison Keerthirathna's situation became serous and prison officers first admitted him to the Base Hospital, Negombo and he was then transferred to the National Hospital of Colombo for further treatment. Keerthirathna was treated there for a period more than one month.

Meanwhile his brother Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Senarathna who lives with him tried to find the reason for Keerathirathna's arrest. He inquired of the register of the Puttalam Magistrate Court where he learned that Keerathirathna has been arrested by the police officers attached to the Anamaduwa Police while they are searching a person named in the warrant issued in case number MC/53886/A/10 by the Magistrate Court of Puttalam. He further learned that in that case the 6th suspect was Rajakaruna Herath Mudiyanselage Keerthi Jayarathna and he had already appeared before the Magistrate and been released on bail. Senarathna then met an Attorney-at-Law and sought his representation in court to have Keerthirathna released. However, the explained that he was erroneously arrested and detained and therefore there was no need to appear for him.

Then Senarathna complained to the Assistance Superintendent of Police (ASP) Puttalam, the Superintendent of Police Puttalam, the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission on the violation of the fundamental rights of Keerathirathna but none of these authorities have started an investigation yet.

Keerthirathna and his relatives are still waiting for justice to be done in his case. He is seeking independent investigation and prosecution against the perpetrators of the violation of his rights.

I request your urgent intervention to ensure that the authorities listed below instigate an immediate investigation into the allegations of illegal arrest, illegal detention, torture by the police perpetrators, and the prosecution of those proven to be responsible under the criminal law of the country for misusing powers of state officers and for wrongful prosecution. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Mahinda Balasuriya
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440 / 327877
E-mail: igp@police.lk

2. Mr. Mohan Peiris
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
E-mail: ag@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

3. Secretary
National Police Commission
3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers
109 Galle Road
Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 395310
Fax: +94 11 2 395867
E-mail: npcgen@sltnet.lk or polcom@sltnet.lk

4. Secretary
Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission
No. 108
Barnes Place
Colombo 07
SRI LANKA
Tel: +9411 2694925, +9411 2685980, +9411 2685981
Fax: +9411 2694924 (General) +94112696470 (Chairman)
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-084-2011
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.