The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) today condemned the recent killing of two suspects in police custody, namely Melon Mabula alias ‘Uru Juwa’ and Tharaka Perera Wijesekera alias ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ which has occurred on two consecutive days.
In a statement, the BASL said the State and the Police should have a duty to ensure the safety and security of persons in their custody, irrespective of the character of such persons and the seriousness of the nature of the allegations against such persons.
The full statement is as follows,
These deaths have all the hallmarks of extra-judicial killings and we call upon the State to ensure the safety and security of persons in their custody.
On May 12, 2021, an Attorney-at-Law representing Tharaka Perera Wijesekera informed the BASL by e-mail that his client had been suddenly transferred from the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to a special police Unit at Peliyagoda and that he fears that his client will be killed in custody.
Acting upon the complaint of the Attorney-at-Law, between 2000 and 2100 hours the President of the BASL informed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mr. Chandana Wickremeratne via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and also by text message and WhatsApp the apprehensions of the said Attorney-at- Law and reminded the IGP that the Police and the State have a duty to protect persons in their custody. The IGP was reminded that the Supreme Court in many decisions has re-iterated the duty and responsibility cast on the State to ensure the safety and security of persons in its custody.
The Attorney-at-Law concerned had also informed the IGP, the Director CID, and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka of his concerns.
Despite the said notifications by the BASL on behalf of an Attorney-at-Law representing his client, the news media has now reported that Tharaka Wijesekera has been killed while being detained by the Peliyagoda Special Crimes Division, allegedly "when he tried to attack police while recovering some weapons". This happened at a time when the Police including the IGP had been notified of the same.
On May 11, 2021 another suspect named Melon Mabula alias ‘Uru Juwa’ had met his death in a similar manner. We are informed that representations were made to the police as regards his safety, prior to his death.
The State and the Police have a duty to ensure the safety and security of persons in their custody, irrespective of the character of such persons and the seriousness of the nature of the allegations against such persons.
Such deaths are an affront to the Rule of Law and will tarnish the image of Sri Lanka. It is an imperative requirement of criminal justice that persons accused of serious crimes including murder are tried by a Court of law and punished for their crimes and that the networks that aided and abetted such activities are prosecuted and dismantled. This requirement is defeated by the failure of police officers to control the unarmed suspect purportedly accompanied by them without the use of lethal force.
It is incomprehensible how on several occasions the Police have been unable to protect unarmed suspects in their custody.
The Executive Committee of the BASL expresses its grave and serious concern and condemns the failure of the Police including the IGP to protect persons in their custody.
The BASL calls upon His Excellency the President and the Government to take serious note of these incidents and to take action to prevent such occurrences.
The BASL also requests the authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these incidents. As far back as 2013 the BASL highlighted the issue of the killing of suspects in the custody of Police and will use all means at its disposal to prevent similar acts of omission and commission on the part of the State authorities in the future.