Nalin wanted suspects released – SSP Hewavitharana
By Buddhika Samaraweera
Former Deputy Minister Nalin Bandara had, during a meeting with Police Officers and certain other parties, requested that several suspects arrested for allegedly attacking properties belonging to Muslims in Hettipola in May 2019, be released.
This was disclosed when SSP Oshan Hewavitharana, who was in charge of the Kuliyapitiya Police Division at that time, testified before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the bombings on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, yesterday (2).
He said there were signs of unrest in the area by early May. On 12 May 2019, I was informed that an unidentified group had asked Muslim businessmen to close their shops in Dummalasuriya, he added.
When questioned by a Commission Member as to what action he took after being informed of it, the witness said he went there with the OIC of the Dummalasuriya Police and took steps to reopen the shops.
He said on the same day, at around 5:30 p.m., he was informed by the Kuliyapitiya Headquarters Inspector that four Muslim-owned shops in Hettipola Road, Karanthipola, Kuliyapitiya, had been attacked. “Four suspects were later arrested based on a tip-off. I was then informed that more than 200 people have gathered at the scene along with religious leaders,” he added.
However, the witness said it was later decided to release the four suspects on Police bail. Adding that the suspects were arrested on a tip-off, he said they were released on bail until the investigations were completed.
When questioned by a Member of the Commission as to whether there had been any other incidents on those days; Hewavitharana said the other significant incident was reported in Kinigama, Hettipola. He added that a large number of persons had gathered after a complaint that some ammunition had been thrown into the Kinigama Tank by some members of a mosque. The Police, with the assistance of Navy divers, had searched the Tank for two days, on 10 and 11 May 2019. Responding to a question raised by a Commission Member as to whether they were able to find anything hidden in the Tank, the witness said they failed to find anything on 10 and 11 May. He also added: "but some individual who had gone to the Tank to bathe had found ammunition on 12 May. Then there was a tense situation in the area, as people gathered near the mosque. Police and the Army were deployed to the location and although they managed to disperse the crowd, several mosques were attacked."
When questioned as to whether any suspects were arrested in that connection, the witness said six suspects were arrested by the Army and that they were handed over to the Bingiriya Police. They were then sent to the Hettipola Police Station, the witness said.
He also said a large number of persons had gathered near the Hettipola Police on 13 May, demanding that those suspects be released. Those who gathered there insisted that the suspects had been arrested without evidence, the witness said, and added that a meeting was held at a school to resolve the issue.
When questioned by Commission Members as to whom that meeting was attended by, he said that Bandara, the District and Divisional Secretaries and religious leaders of all communities attended.
Hewavitharana also said the ideas of those who attended the meeting were also sought, since the Police had not conducted investigations into the incident. Then, those who attended the meeting including Buddhist monks and other religious leaders said it was appropriate to release those suspects on Police bail until the investigations were over. Bandara also requested that they be released, he added.
He further added: "it was then informed to the Hettipola OIC to grant Police bail to the suspects. The suspects were to be sent to the Bingiriya Police Station and released. Somehow, some persons who gathered at the scene protested and prevented the Police from taking the suspects to Bingiriya.”
A State Counsel (SC) then queried whether someone had come to the Police Station at that time. The witness said Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekara had come to the Police and helped resolve the issue. He told the people that there was an agreement to give Police bail to the suspects. Jayasekara lives close to the Hettipola Police Station and was helpful, Hewavitharana added.
He also said the Police took steps to disperse the crowds that had gathered in Hettipola Town on the day. However, due to the shortage of officers, the shops being damaged could not be avoided, he added.
When questioned as to why the suspects were not arrested on that day, he said the people were dispersed to control the situation that arose. CCTV footage of the scene could have been taken and the suspects could have been arrested based on it, he added.