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SRI LANKA: Police allegedly torture a man to extract information

September 16, 2008

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-206-2008

16 September 2008
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SRI LANKA: Police allegedly torture a man to extract information

ISSUES: Torture; threats; police assault; fabrication of charges
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Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the Gampaha police assaulted a person after hanging him from a roof beam in the police station. He was illegally arrested on suspicion of a theft and detained him for 5 days before being produced before a magistrate and released on bail.

CASE DETAILS: (Based on the testimony of Malayappan Kali Dasan)

Several police officers from the Gampaha Police Station went to the house of Mr. Malayappan Kali Dasan at around 10:30am on August 21 and inquired about other persons living on the premisis. Dasan replied that only his wife and two children were with him. Then, the officers asked Dasan to accompany them to a neighbour's house. As soon as Dasan entered the premises of the neighbour's house, an officer suddenly caught him by his shirt collar and forced him into a car.

When seeing this, his wife and his eldest daughter came crying and asked where the officers were taking him but the officers scolded them in filthy language. Then, the officers took him to the Gampaha Police Station. According to Dasan, on the way to the police station, he was threatened with a pistol and asked to hand over the jewelry he had stolen from the neighbour's house. At this time, he came to know that the neighbour might have complained to the police that he had stolen jewelry and for that reason he had been taken into custody. He was, in fact, taken to the police station in the neighbour's vehicle.

Without any questioning, the officers took him to the upper floor of the police station. There were four police officers including Mr. Bandula Perera, Officer-in-Charge (OIC) and Weerasiri, a police constable. The OIC asked him to hand over the jewelry of which he had no clue. He beat him with a hose pipe on his body, his back, knees, elbows and the soles of the feet. Then, the OIC said, "This is not enough. Hang him." Then, Dasan was blindfolded and his mouth was covered with a piece of cloth to prevent him shouting. His clothes were removed. The officers tied his hands behind with a piece of cloth and the tied a rope to the cloth.

They put the end of the rope over the beam of the roof and pulled on it so that his body was suspended. When he was hung, an officer hit his head with a hose. This lasted for about one and half hours. He was almost unconscious when he was brought down. When he was taken down, he was asked to lie down and an iron bar was placed on his legs and two police constables stood on each side of the bar which caused severe pain. Officers said, "if you have no money, we will get some from your neighbours, but hand over their jewelry". Then, he was brought back to the ground floor and his legs were chained. He was caned on the following day.

In the morning on August 26, police recorded his statement and asked him to sign it. He was brought before the Gampaha Magistrate at noon. The Police claimed that the inquiry was not over but Dasan was granted bail of Rs. 100,000 (USD 928) and the day of the trial was fixed for November 3, 2008.

On August 27, Dasan went to a private doctor for medication. As his pain continued, he was admitted to Warakapola hospital from September 1 to 3 where he told a doctor what had happened to him in the police station. The doctor informed this to the Dadigama police and an officer took down his statement.

He went to Warakapola hospital because his parents live nearby and did not want to go to a hospital in Gampaha due to the fear of reprisals from the Gampaha police. He still suffers pain in his head, hands, legs and joints.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

Once again, this is another case of torture which is widespread and the type of torture is commonly committed by the Sri Lankan police. Torture is a common practice by the police to get information or to force persons to confess.

The case of Prasantha who was hung upside down while the police poured the juice of chilies in his eyes and nose in order to extract information is another example (AHRC-UAC-198-2008)

The Penal Code of Sri Lanka stipulates that an arrestee must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, but as shown in this case, Dasan was kept in the police custody for five days without being brought before the court, which is also a common practice by the police.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the local authorities listed below and urge them to investigate this case so that those responsible are prosecuted and punished according to the law.

Please be informed that the AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture calling for an intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click here:  

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear _________,

SRI LANKA: Police allegedly torture a man to extract information

Name of victim: Malayappan Kali Dasan; married with two children; residing at at 21/1/7, Wickramaarachchi Wawatha, Yakkala, Gampaha; worker in a factory at Balummahara Imbulgoda
Name of alleged perpetrator:
1. Mr. Bandula Perera, Officer-in-Charge (OIC)
2. Weerasiri, police constable
3. two other officers
(All officers are attached to the Gampaha Police Station)
Date of incident: On 21 and 22 August 2008
Place of incident: In the Gampaha Police Station, Gampaha Dist I, Gampaha Division, Western Province (North) Range
Date of incident: On 21 and 22 August 2008

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the torture of a man by the police in order to make him confess in a case of the theft of some jewelry.

According to the information that I have received, at 10:30am on August 21, some officers attached to the Gampaha Police Station went to the house of Dasan where they asked him to accompany them to a neighbour's house. However, when they were in the premises of the neighbour's house, officers suddenly arrested him and took him to the police station by the neighbour's vehicle where, on the way they threatened him with a pistol to return the jewelry.

From the information that I have reveived, on arrival at the police station, the OIC hit him with a hose pipe all over his body asking him to hand over the jewelry and when Dasan denied stealing it, he was blindfolded, stripped naked, his hands tied behind with rope and hung from the beam of the roof by the officers. In that position he was beaten for about one and half hours by four officers including the OIC and PC Weerasiri.

I am aware that Dasan was arrested on August 21 but only brought before the Gampaha Magistrate at noon on August 26 where he was granted bail. Due to the severe pain, Dasan admitted to the Warakapola hospital from September 1 to 3 where he informed this case to a doctor who also informed this to the Dadigama police and an officer took down a statement from Dasan.

I therefore urge you to investigate the case of torture of Dasan by the four officers attached to the Gampaha Police Station so that those responsible are prosecuted and punished according to law and I also urge that this case must be dealt with under the CAT Act No 22 of 1994 and the victim given adequate compensation. Higher police authority such as the Assistant Superintendent of Police must investigate this case in order to make sure that an investigation be conducted thoroughly without any interference or influence.

How is it possible that police officers can arrest a person without evidence, keep him in police custody without producing him before a Magistrate without any intervention even though the police are aware of articles of the Sri Lankan Penal Code. In this regard, I also urge you to investigate those responsible in order to stop this common practice and to withdraw the charge imposed on him.

I take this opportunity to remind the government of Sri Lanka of the fact that Sri Lanka is a state party to both International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and torture is not allowed under any circumstances.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
President
Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka
C/- Office of the President
Temple Trees, 150, Galle Road
Colombo 3
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2472100 / +94 11 2446657 (this is contact for Secretary to President) 
E-mail: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk 

2. Mr. C.R. de Silva
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436 421
E-mail: ag@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

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

4. Secretary
Human Rights Commission
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk

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

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-206-2008
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.