Did Police do enough to keep citizens safe?

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Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his close confidants led by MP Johnston Fernando and Sanath Nishantha provoked SLPP supporters and instigated them to attack peaceful protesters in front of Temple Trees and Galle Face, in a final attempt to retain power that resulted in a bloodbath in the country this week.

Violence escalated islandwide, when a large number of Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters attacked peaceful protesters at the MynaGoGama and GotaGoGama peaceful protest sites on Monday (9), killing at least 9 people, including a Parliamentarian and injuring more than 200 persons.

After creating the chaos, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

‘This is organised crime’ – SLYJA

The Sri Lanka Young Journalists’ Association (SLYJA) requested an impartial investigation into the brutal attack. The SLYJA, alleging the attack as organised crime, made this request from Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, the Fort Police OIC, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and Secretary of Ministry of Public Security Jagath Alwis.

The association named President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Ministry Secretary Kamal Gunaratne, MPs Johnston Fernando, Sanath Nishantha, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Mahinda Kahandagama, IGP Chandana Wickramaratne, Western Province SDIG Deshabandu Tennakoon, SSP Sisira, ASP Jayasekara, Kollupitiya Police OIC and all the politicians who were present at Temple Trees on the fateful day, as respondents.

“We closely observed many attempts to supress the peaceful protests of the citizens who are demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the person responsible for the current economic and political crises. We have, on several occasions, made complaints to the IGP, Police stations and the HRCSL. However, the Police did not bother to take any action. We have reason to believe that the IGP deliberately did so to put the country into a crisis through murders and vandalism,” they alleged.

“The respondents clearly knew that there were peaceful protests at GotaGoGama and MynaGoGama and violence could be unleashed by their supporters. However, they called a massive crowed to Temple Trees by giving liquor, money, and other privileges with the intention of unleashing violence on peaceful protesters. After the crowd was summoned, the former PM and several other respondents made speeches to provoke the crowd. Several respondents then directed the provoked crowd to MynaGoGama and GotaGoGama to attack the protesters.

SDIG Tennakoon and a group knew that a crime was imminent. But they let it happen anyway.

Many parties including the SLYJA had informed the IGP, SDIG Tennakoon, and several other Police Officers that violence could be unleashed by the SLPP supporters. The Police refused to take some complaints. This conduct of the Police led the SLPP supporters to attack the protesters and vandalise property.”

The SLYJA then levelled a serious allegation against the IGP and SDIG Tennakoon.

The association alleged that the IGP placed the Police Riot Squad under the purview of SDIG Tennakoon. SDIG Tennakoon, two days prior to the attacks on protest sites, had allegedly advised high-ranking Police Officers not to fire tear gas or water cannons at those who visit Temple Trees to support Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Owing to the conduct of the respondents, at least 9 people were killed and more than 200 people were injured. Therefore, we would like to say that the above respondents individually or collectively have committed offences 102, 112, 113 (a), 147, 300, 296 and 418 under Section 32 of the Penal Code.”

We emphasise that all of the above respondents have committed a number of serious offenses, including manslaughter, attempted murder, aiding and abetting homicide, causing serious injury, and causing damage to property, by acting in accordance with a common motive and/ or being part of a mob, they said.

Moreover, they questioned whether the CID is capable of conducting an impartial investigation into the attack.

“The current CID Director, who was part of the security detail of Mahinda Rajapaksa for a long time, is infamous as a close associate of the latter. When he was appointed to the post, he transferred many skilled CID Officers and onboarded Officers who had serious allegations against them. So, it is questionable whether the CID would be able to conduct an impartial investigation.

Therefore, we believe the investigations should be conducted by retired professionals or an independent board that is acceptable to citizens. If the authorities fail to arrest and punish the culprits who are responsible for this organised crime, the law and order of the country would be disrupted,” the SLYJA said.

Travel ban on MR, Namal, Johnston, SDIG Tennakoon and 13 others

Meanwhile, Colombo Fort Chief Magistrate Thilina Gamage yesterday imposed an overseas travel ban on 17 persons, including the former Prime Minister, former Minister Namal Rajapaksa and SDIG Tennakoon.

The Fort Chief Magistrate thus impounded the passports of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Namal Rajapaksa, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Rathnayake, MP Sanjeeva Edirimanna, Kanchana Jayaratne, Sampath Athukorala, Renuka Perera, former State Minister Sanath Nishantha, Nishantha Jayasinghe, Amitha Abeywickrema, Pushpalal Kumarasiri, Mahinda Kahandagama, Dulip Perera, and SDIG Tennakoon.

Chief Magistrate Gamage said the passports of the 17 should be promptly surrendered to Court.

This order was issued based on a request made to Court by ASG Ayesha Jinasena. Furthermore, the Court impounded the passports of seven witnesses, to obtain testimony for the probe.

Following is the summery of the hearing:

Fort Magistrate – “When there has not been any case filed in this Court with regard to the ongoing protest at Galle Face, a group of lawyers attached to the BASL, had submitted a letter to the JSC, urging to remove me from the case. Hence, I intend to ask from you whether all are in agreement with me presiding over this trial.”

DSG Jinasena – “I would like to state on behalf of the CID and the AG, that we have no objection to it.”

President’s Counsel Rienzie Arsekularatne – “We too have no objection against you presiding over this case. We have full confidence in your ability to do so.”

Hence, based on the mutual agreement on the part of the prosecution and the aggrieved party, it was decided to hear the trial before Chief Magistrate Thilina Gamage.

ASG Jinasena – “This request is made to you, based on Provisions contained in Sections 7, 77, and 127 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. I hereby urge you to issue an order to impound the passports of the persons, which will be mentioned to you subsequently. In order to facilitate the probe into the case, it is imperative that an order is issued to ban the foreign travel of these persons.

The probe into the case was launched by the CID, on an order received from the IGP on 10 May. Hence, submissions were made to Court on the same date via a ‘B’ Report. The CID has only received a certain amount of details, regarding this incident. This probe is primarily conducted via the information beamed through electronic and print media, social media platforms, video footage, statements recorded from the wounded and eyewitness testimony.

The probe is pertaining to the alleged assault on the protesters at GotaGoGama, MynaGoGama, injuring the protesters and damage caused to property at the two protest sites. We have to date probed with regard to from which areas these assailants had arrived. According to information available, they had arrived at the two protest sites from Temple Trees.

The probe had revealed that these assailants, having taken part in a meeting convened by the former PM, had proceeded to assault the protesters at the two protest sites. It is also clear that they had arrived at Temple Trees, from various parts of the country. During this meeting, former PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, along with former Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Johnston Fernando, had addressed them. It has also been revealed, that at the end of that meeting, the assailants armed with poles and clubs, had proceeded towards GotaGoGama and MynaGoGama and had assaulted the peaceful protesters there.

Hence, it has to be probed as to how these people who had gone to the meeting at Temple Trees without bearing any arms, had then gone to the two protest sites, being armed with poles and clubs. Furthermore, the conduct of Police Officers at the two protest sites has also now been called into question, as they had not intervened at all to quell the chaos. We are currently probing that too. Hence, an inquiry is being conducted, related to charges of conspiracy, to conduct an illegal meeting and an illegal assault.

This is a very complex probe. We are also investigating 10 persons, who had addressed that illegal meeting at Temple Trees. We are also investigating the conduct of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Namal Rajapaksa, Sanjeeva Edirimanna, Kanchana Jayaratne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Rathnayake, Sampath Athukorala and Renuka Perera, with regard to their involvement with the meeting held at Temple Trees.

Also, we have uncovered details, regarding the involvement of six other persons who had accompanied the armed assailants to Temple Trees (MynaGoGama) and Galle Face (GotaGoGama).

Thus, investigations are continuing regarding the conduct of Sanath Nishantha, Nishantha Jayasinghe, Amitha Abeywickrema, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Mahinda Kahandagama, and Dulip Perera. Also, it has come to light, that persons such as Sanath Nishantha and SDIG Deshabandu Tennakoon, were engaged in discussions with unidentified groups, who had headed to the two protest sites, to assault the peaceful protesters.

It is also clear that though the responsibility lies with the IGP to ensure peace in the country, he had been guilty of dereliction of his duty here. A separate probe is also being conducted into it. Hence, in the name of justice and to further aid the investigation into this case, I urge you to issue an order to impound the passports of each of the aforesaid people, as it is imperative that they remain here. There are also seven witnesses to this case. They too must remain here till the conclusion of this trial and I urge you to issue a similar order against them as well. They are namely Nona Maureen Noor, Ven. Etampitiye Sumananda Thera, Amal Salinda Perera, Sadan Sandaruwan, Amila Jeewantha, K. Jagath and Mohammad Sharmila.”

A group of lawyers including President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris, Rienzie Arsekularatne, Maithri Guneratne and Upul Jayasuriya were present in Court, on behalf of the aggrieved party.

Arsekularatne PC – “There is proof by way of video footage, that on the day of the mayhem that former Minister Johnston Fernando, addressing the meeting at Temple Trees, had implored the people to get rid of the protesters at Galle Face and outside Temple Trees.

At that moment, Sanjeeva Edirimanna, had raised both his arms and had expressed his consent to it overwhelmingly. Following this, around 500 people, who had gathered at that meeting, had also expressed their support for it. It also shows that Mahinda Rajapaksa had also been involved in that meeting. It is clear that he had at no stage opposed the measures being contemplated by his supporters, to crash the protest sites.

He had the responsibility to ensure that people’s fundamental rights are not infringed by such action. But, he never took any measures to nip it in the bud. These people, who had gone to the meeting without arms, suddenly came out of the premises, being armed with poles and clubs. They then proceeded to the protest sites and had begun to assault the protesters mercilessly, who had been engaging in peaceful demonstrations. The tents of the protesters had also been damaged.

Though Deshabandu Tennakoon too was present there, it is patently clear that he has not taken any action to douse the chaos or even arrest any of the assailants. We also have proof that Moratuwa Mayor Saman Lal Fernando, had bussed in crowds to Temple Trees. Therefore, I urge you to issue an order to arrest each of these persons and produce them in Court.”

Guneratne PC – “Also, I must bring to your attention the involvement of Rekha Kahandagama, with the assaults at the two protest sites. Her name had not been mentioned previously. There is also proof that a large number of inmates from the Watareka Prison had been brought down in vehicles, for the attack on peaceful protesters at Temple Trees and at Galle Face. Therefore, I pray you to issue an order for the arrest of Prisons Commissioner General Thushara Upuldeniya and for him to be produced in Court, with regard to this incident.”

Further hearing of the case is fixed for 25 May.    

Questionable conduct of the Police

According to eyewitness testimony and video footage obtained by Ceylon Today, the Police put a minimum effort to stop the SLPP supporters from entering GotaGoGama after attacking MynaGoGama.

According to one video, SDIG Tennakoon was assuring a group of GotaGoGama protesters that the Police would protect them from the advancing goons.

“You have to go inside (GotaGoGama). We are here to protect you. Don’t worry about anything,” he said.

According to another video, the Police only created two-line Police formations to stop the attackers who were advancing from Temple Trees. This desperate attempt of the Police seemed eyewash, as the advancing mob broke the Police formation within seconds. The Police Riot Squad did not fire tear gas or water cannons even though they were placed just behind the two-line Police formation. The mob passed the Police with ease.

The person who filmed the video was heard shouting, “The Police did not stop them. They did not even use tear gas. They are not protecting us.”

This desperate attempt was again seen near the Galle Face bus halt. There, the Police formed a human barrier to stop the attackers. Even at this time, no tear gas or water cannons were used to disperse them.

The Police remembered to fire tear gas and water cannons only after the attackers entered GotaGoGama and burnt down huts and brutally assaulted the peaceful protesters.

Also, SDIG Tennakoon who vowed to protect the protesters, was seen chatting with MP Sanath Nishantha, who was leading the attackers to Galle Face from Temple Trees, while the protesters were stabbed and beaten by the SLPP goons.

It should be remembered that when the citizens’ protests were carried out against the President and the Government, especially on the day the protesters set up ‘HoruGoGama’ near Parliament, the Police used permanent iron barriers and brute force to disperse protesters several times.

However, the Police running away when Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters were advancing to attack peaceful protesters after a lukewarm attempt are really surprising.

Not only that, as of Friday (13), the Police had failed to arrest even a single suspect who attacked peaceful protesters, despite overwhelming video evidence.

(Pix by Amitha Thennakoon and Sajeewa Chinthaka Kahadagama)

By Methmalie Dissanayake