SRI LANKA: Death in custody and evidence of torture


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-27-2002
ISSUES: Torture,

SRI LANKA: Torture by the police and death in custody


– Name of victim: Uduwa Vidanelage Susil Jayalath of Sapugaskanda, 19, male

– Date of death: 29/06/2002 (Case No. 1585/02 Gampaha M.C.)

– Death while in custody of the Sapugaskanda Police

Susil Jayalath was arrested by the Sapugaskanda police with two other people. According to the family, when the police arrested the 19-year-old, he was drinking a king coconut in an area where the police had made a raid against drug-users. According to the family, the boy did not use any drugs, and, in fact, he did not even smoke.

After the arrest, the medical report indicates that the boy was beaten with a blunt instrument. The medical report states that ¡°the lower injury is consistent with an injury sustained due to kicking and an upper injury due to a direct blow on the back with a blunt weapon, such as a wooden pole.¡±

His death, however, according to the medical report, was not caused by these injuries, but was ¡°due to head injuries which may be due to the body forcibly coming into contact with a hard, rough surface (such as a tarred road) following a backward fall with some amount of movement thereafter.¡±

The family claims that the boy was thrown out of the van in which the police were taking him. The police though claim he jumped. Prior to either being thrown from the van or jumping from it, it is evident from the medical report that the boy had been beaten.

The following factors place responsibility on the State for the boy’s death: (1) It is without dispute that the boy was in police custody at the time he received the injuries on his head, which were fatal, and (2) that, prior to these injuries, the boy had been beaten while in police custody.

The magistrate, after receiving the medical report, made a statement in which she observed that this may not be a murder case as the fatal injuries are on the victim’s head. However, she ordered a further inquiry as there were other injuries that were not caused by a fall.

As for the head injuries, it is premature to judge whether these were caused by being thrown or jumping from the van. This is a matter that can be determined forensically. For example, that the body fell backwards, and not forwards, may be more consistent with being thrown out of a van rather than jumping out of it. In any event, these matters can be determined after a proper and independent inquiry and after careful examination of all of the evidence. The case though has not yet undergone a criminal investigation as required by the criminal procedure law or a judicial inquiry as required under the law. In any event, once a person is in police custody, his or her protection is the duty of the police, and the State is accountable for the failure to protect the suspect.

The fact that there are injuries indicating torture make the officers responsible for torture. Under Sri Lankan law (Act No. 22 of 1994), torture is a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment.

This case has led to the largest protest by the people of the Sapugaskanda area in recent times. The police had to be removed from the area, and the military had to be deployed to bring the area under control. The protest showed a very deep-seated resentment of the people against the practices of the police.

The case requires an investigation by an impartial investigating team into the whole episode and the manner in which this boy was fatally injured. There also needs to be an inquiry and prosecution of the police officers responsible for torture, and the State must be held responsible for his death in custody.


Please write to the Sri Lankan government and urge them to inquire into this case by an impartial group.



To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear Sir,

Re: Death in Custody and Evidence of Torture in the Case of Susil Jayalath by the Sapugaskanda Police

I have recently been shocked by the death of a 19-year-old boy, Susil Jayalath, in police custody in Sapugaskanda, Sri Lanka. The medical report, I have learned, also shows physical injuries that indicate that he was tortured. The actual circumstances of his death requires an investigation by an impartial group. The protection that the State must provide for all people arrested and who are in police custody has been denied in this case. We urge you to take appropriate action to deal with all of these matters.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,



1. Honourable Prime Minister

Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe

Cambridge Place

Colombo 7


Fax: 941 682-905 or 542919 (Secretary to the PM)

Email: (Secretary to the PM)

SALUTATION: Hon. Prime Minister

2. Hon. Mr. K.C. Kamalasabesan

Attorney General

Attorney – General’s Department

Colombo 12


Fax: +94 1 436 421

SALUTATION: Dear Attorney General

3. Hon. Mr. John Amaratunga

Minister of Interior

Ministry of Interior



Tel: +94 1 430-860

Fax: +94 1 387-526 or 698 282

SALUTATION: Dear Minister

Also send a copy of your letter to;

1. Mr. Theo C. van Boven

Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the question of torture


8-14 Avenue de la Paix

1211 Geneva 10,


Fax: +41 22 917-9016



2. Secretary

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8


Fax: +941 694 924


Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-27-2002
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Torture,