‘Rambukkana’ Mirrors 1976 Pera Slaying

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Police shooting at demonstrators in Rambukkana last week killed one person and injured several others. The deceased has been identified as K.D. Chaminda Lakshan (42), a father of two.

The killing of Lakshan is reminiscent of the killing of another innocent civilian in a Police shooting that took place 46 years ago, the killing of Peradeniya University undergraduate Weerasuriya on 12 November 1976.

Weerasuriya was killed for protesting over the non-removal of the Peradeniya University Vice Chancellor, then known as President, while Lakshan was killed for allegedly protesting the non-availability of “fuel at the pump” because the Government was finding it difficult to import fuel due to a foreign exchange shortage, the Government subsequently made available the fuel, but at a higher price.

With reference to Lakshan’s killing, electronic media on Friday (22) reported, to quote excerpts, ‘Amateur footage showed how a three-wheeler was set on fire during the protests’.

A witness told Kegalle Magistrate Vasana Navaratne that he had seen Police set fire to the three-wheeler. “A Police officer set it on fire. There are ample videos showing a Police officer setting fire. Even I can be seen in the video. The actions of the Police will be revealed in the coming days,” he warned.

“A Police officer and an STF officer arrived at the location. Three more people came behind them. The thin and tall person set fire to the three-wheeler,” said another witness.

During a magisterial inspection on Thursday, 21 April, a witness said that a Police officer had given chase to Chaminda Lakshan on a byroad.

According to the witness, the victim had been shot when returning after attempting to protect a motorcycle that was parked on the road.

The witness said he wouldn’t reveal the identity of the Police officer as he is a father of three.

“I attended the protest. But Chaminda Lakshan didn’t participate in the protest. He was sick. He had undergone surgery on his head. I saw with my own eyes how the Police officer shot him. They started attacking people by chasing them. They then opened fire,” said the witness.

Media also reported, to quote excerpts, “A senior Police officer apologised to the Kegalle Magistrate on Wednesday (20) for repeatedly using correction fluid on several notes mentioned in the B report produced by Sri Lanka Police over the Rambukkana incident”.

The officer apologised to the Magistrate, after counsel reported facts to Court against Sri Lanka Police over the killing of a protester in Rambukkana.

Counsel alleged that the Police had deliberately changed certain sections of the B report in a conniving manner and raised their concerns to the Magistrate.

The Magistrate during the inspection process also recorded statements from three witnesses and a counsel informed the Magistrate that one of the witnesses was intimidated by a Police officer after providing evidence.

The Magistrate ordered the Police to refrain from exerting any influence on the witnesses. Further, she ordered them to summon the officer in question, and he was produced on site.

The case was called up again on Wednesday night and the Police was ordered in open court to ensure that witnesses are not influenced.

With reference to Weerasuriya’s killing, Sri Lanka Guardian on its 19 November 2010 Edition, to quote excerpts, “The brutal police attack on undergraduates spread like wildfire. Trade unions, schoolchildren (nearly four million), political parties came to show their anger against the brutal attack on innocent students and to protest against Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike’s dictatorship.  Trade unions including plantation workers went on countrywide strikes, where over a million workers joined the strike.
In the aftermath of the brutal attack the Government collapsed at the Parliamentary Poll held eight months later on 21 July 1977.”

A Government may not necessarily be toppled by a Parliamentary Poll. It may also be prematurely sent home by a successful no-confidence vote, while the President may be toppled by an impeachment motion in Parliament.

Indications are that the Lakshan killing, from a political perspective, is a mirror image of the Weerasuriya killing vis-à-vis the events that unfolded thereafter in 1977.