SRI LANKA: Torture and custodial death of Sunil Hemachandra by police officers 


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-34-2003
ISSUES: Death in custody,

SRI LANKA: Torture and custodial death of Sunil Hemachandra by police officers
SRI LANKA: Murder, torture and extortion by police officers

Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned about the case of the torture by the police officer and custodial death of Sunil Hemachandra in Sri Lanka. The AHRC has received a report that Sunil Hemachandra, a 28 year-old rubber tapper won Rs 300,000 (US$ 30,000) in a lottery two weeks ago. He was arrested in the small hours of the morning on 23 July by police officers from the Moragahahena police station and found unconscious and bleeding in police cell the next day. He was taken to hospital but died there on 26 July. It is alleged that the police pressured him for some money, days before the arrest. Over the past one and half years, there have been a number of deaths in police custody in Sri Lanka.

Your urgent action is needed to pressure the Sri Lankan government to conduct an immediate investigation into this case and to take strong action to stop further torture and custodial death by the police immediately.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission


About 0:15 am, in the early hours of the morning of 24 July, 2003, Sunil Hemechandra was arrested at his house by police officers from Moragahahena police station. No charge or reason were given to him or his family members for the arrest. When the family went to the police station next morning 25 July, they found that Sunil Hemachandra was lying unconscious in a police cell, and was bleeding from the nose. He was taken to the Horana Hospital and transferred to the general hospital in Colombo. However, he died in the hospital on 26 July 2003. Days prior to his arrest, several police officers have visited his house and tried to extort money from him after he recently won Rs 300,000 (US$ 30,000) in the lottery.

However, according to the Moragahahena police, Sunil was arrested along with another person, identified as Chanaka, who was wanted by police. When Sunil objected to the arrest of the wanted man who had taken refuge at Sunil’s home, he was arrested. Both were taken to the police station and locked up, police said. An officer from the police station said to the BBC Sinhala Service correspondent that Sunil had developed epilepsy and collapsed when he arrived at the police station. However, it was revealed that Sunil has no history of any illness.

A complaint regarding the arrest and torture has been made to the Assistant Supintendant of Police (ASP) of Horanam, but he failed to take any action. Furthermore, according to the newspapers, the ASP has been assigned to conduct inquiries into this case with the police officers from Moragahahena police station who are allegedly responsible of Sunil’s death. The ASP has been making statements to exonerate the police and the victims’ family and human rights groups fear that evidence will be erased and some story will be fabricated. Despite complaints to the National Human Rights Commission, the National Police Commission and other judicial agencies, the perpetrators have not yet been arrested or brought to justice.


In recent years, the Asian Human Commission has drawn the Sri Lankan Government ots attention to the routine use of torture of an extremely barbaric nature, by the Sri Lankan police. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka to has sharply criticized the failure of the Inspector General of Police to take effective action to supervise the police and to take disciplinary action. The UN Rappoteur against Torture and the Committee Against Torture (CAT) also make many reports and recommendations to the government. All these have been ignored by the police.

The Sri Lankan government follows a policy of the “Tolerance of Torture” and therefore is unwilling to take action against the police. Even in cases where the Supreme Court has found police officers having had committed torture, the officers are allowed to remain as police officers and even to hold high office. Despite law against torture contained in Act No 22 of 1994, not a single officer has been brought to trial or convicted. The Chief Law Enforcement Officer, the Attorney General, has failed to enforce the law against torture. The National Police Commission (NPC) which as the power of disciplinary control has failed in its duty to control discipline. It has for all practical purposes refused to use its power.


Please send letters to the addresses below expressing your concern about the high number of deaths and torture in Police custody in Sri Lanka, and urging them to:

To appoint a special Unit to investigate into the allegation of torture and extortion
To take the inquiry out of hands of ASP of Horana and officers of the same police station where such acts against victim took place.
To immediate arrest the officers who are guilty of murder, torture, extortion and other crimes relating to the victims.
For Government set up a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into the routine practice of torture.
For the media and the particularly the foreign correspondents in the country not to ignore the routine practice of Torture in Criminal investigations.
For the UN Rappoteur Against Torture and Committee Against Torture to investigate this case and other cases and act on the basis of their mandates.

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



Re: Murder, torture and extortion by police officers - Torture and custodial death case of Sunil Hemachandra 

I am bringing to your attention this shocking case. That a poor man who recently won the lottery can end up dead due to police officers trying to extort money from him, and even using torture causing mortal injury to him, is a sad indictment of the terrible situation existing in the name of policing in Sri Lanka. Many more cases of an equally frightening nature have been recorded in the past. The government, the high officers such as the Attorney General, the Inspector General of Police and institutions such as the National Police Commission are ignoring this situation and so are contributing to the lawlessness prevailing in the country. 

I urge that a Special Unit is appointed to investigate the allegations of torture and extortion; to take the inquiry out of the hands of the ASP of Horana and officers of the same police station where such acts against the victim took place; to immediately arrest the officers who are guilty of murder, torture, extortion and other crimes relating to the victims; for the Government to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into the routine practice of Torture.



Send letters to:

1. Chandrika B. Kumaritunga
Presidential Residence, Colombo 3, 
Fax: +941 333 703

2. Hon. Mr. K.C. Kamalasabesan 
Attorney General 
Attorney General's Department 
Colombo 12 
Fax: +94 1 436 421 
Email: or 

3. Mr. Ranjith Abeysuriya PC
Chairman National Police Commission
69-1 Ward Place, Colombo 7 
Sri Lanka 
Fax: +94 1 691 926

4. National Human Right Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8
Tel: +94 1 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 1 694 924

5. Mr. Theo C. van Boven
Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Question of Torture 
OHCHR-UNOG, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917-9016

International Relations
Maastricht University
The Netherlands
Tel. 31-43-3883233 (Assistant: Chantal Kuipers)
Email : 

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-34-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Death in custody,