olice are under fire after the disappearance of a 20-year-old youth who was arrested by the Hambantota Police in connection with a theft of paddy from a paddy store in the area. The incident has resurfaced the memory of the brutality of a section of the police which was invariably evident sometime ago.
According to the youth’s relatives who openly talked to the media, the youth along with several others had been arrested by the police along with several others for allegedly stealing bags of paddy from the store and now he is missing. A man told the media that he was also arrested and locked up in the Hambantota police station. He said the missing youth had been with him in the police lock-up. The man said the youth was taken out of the cell by policemen as he had wanted to answer a call of nature. Later the police personnel claimed the youth had escaped from their custody.
People who are knowledgeable about the goings on in police stations know that suspects in the police lock-up are not sent to the toilet unaccompanied. At least one policeman accompanies the suspects to the toilet and it is very dangerous for a suspect to escape while somebody is watching him out because the policemen might alert their colleagues guarding the station who are armed.Therefore if the police version is to be accepted it is quite incomprehensible as to how the youth escaped without the knowledge of the guards and what efforts the police had made to recapture the fleeing suspect.
After the Yahapalanaya government came to power last year with the promise of ushering in democracy which included the ending of disappearances of people, ending impunity for crimes and police brutality. However, the government was embarrassed several times by the unfair treatment of people and brutality on the part of the police. The arrest of a 17-year-old student without a slightest evidence his involvement in the killing of five-year-old Seya Sadewmi of Kotadeniyawa in September last year, the brutal assault on the HNDA students at the Lipton Circus in Colombo in the following year and the death of a youth during a clash between the villagers and the police in Embilipitiya were three cases in point.
The parents of the youth gone missing from the Hambantota police station had publicly expressed fear that the youth might have been beaten to death since the other person who claimed that the missing person was with him in the police lock-up told the media that he was severely beaten by the police. It is a serious matter and might have a great impact on the government’s efforts to portray a picture before the international community including the UNHRC that it has departed from the past in respect of human rights.
There is a general notion in society that never would a suspect reveal his involvement in an offence unless pressured to do so through especially physical pain inflicted on him. The notion that no one can be killed or made to disappear after being taken into custody by the police or armed forces seems to be far fetched when considering this latest incident.
Authorities have transferred the Hambantota Police OIC and several police personnel to another police station after this incident. This very action points to some involvement of the police in the disappearance of the youth. The transfer of officers cannot be taken as a remedy for the incident; rather it should it be an action facilitating the investigation into the disappearance. It is ironic to note people going missing while the government is taking action to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) to trace the people who had disappeared in the past.