Dr. Shafi is seen arriving at court in Kurunegala for the hearing.
Pic by Lahiru Harshana
- The CID in a report informed the court,
- That the arrest of Dr. Shafi had been made without having any evidence against him
- That the police reports compiled by the Kurunegala Police have been deliberately backdated with changes
- That Ven. Rathana Thera, who has attended every session of the hearing in Kurunegala, has allegedly threatened the inquiring officer of the cid B.S. Thissera
Contradictory developments, difficulties in proving charges, glaring conflicts of interest and many factual disputes are emerging regarding the narrative surrounding Senior House Officer (SHO) Dr. Seigu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi from the Teaching Hospital, Kurunegala who was in custody over charges of alleged sterilization, terrorism and acquiring enormous wealth against him.
He was granted bail yesterday evening on Rs. 250, 000 cash bail and four sureties of Rs. 2.5 million each. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which took over the case, was struggling to prove unsubstantiated claims of 147 mothers who have complained that they have been sterilized after cesarean deliveries performed by Dr. Shafi.
The CID narrowed down the 615 initial complaints out of whom many had made complaints due to the initial media fenzy. In the meantime groups, led by Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, were protesting in Kurunegala against any relief being given to Dr. Shafi after the Sinhala newspaper’s sterilization story sparked uproar in the country.
Acknowledging the ambiguity of the charges and non existance of any evidence against Dr. Shafi, the CID has concluded its findings and informed the Court on July 11 to revoke the detention order against Dr. Shafi. However, the suspect was remanded till yesterday. Filing a 210-page report on June 27 and a 24-page further report on July 11, the CID revealed to the Court about many unearthed and unknown facts regarding the case. The previous story that the public was told is now taking a new turn.
Charges and detention
There were several charges filed by the Kurunegala Police when they arrested Dr. Shafi. Having suspicious connections with a terrorist organization, amassing enormous wealth within a short period of time and the possible public unrest if released plus the risk to his life and his properties were the reasons for him to be detained by the Kurunegala Police. Although he had been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the CID on July 11 informed the Court that Dr. Shafi could be released as they have not been able to prove any terrorism related charges against him.
The CID informed the court that the arrest of Dr. Shafi had been made without having any evidence against him. After he was cleared from terrorism charges, detaining him further is unreasonable, the CID told the Court through their reports.
“Dr. Shafi is being detained under Article 9 (1) of 1979 PTA. Taking the above mentioned facts into consideration, it is learned that detaining him further, even when there is no evidence to prove the charges, is not fair. Thereby, the Minister of Defence will be informed about the latest situation regarding this case in order to take further steps,” CID told the court on June 27.
Subsequently, when the case was taken up again at the Kurunegala Magistrate’s Court on July 11, the CID said that the detention order has been revoked upon the instructions of President Maithripala Sirisena in his capacity as the Defence Minister to facilitate the release of Dr. Shafi.
“Criminal charges against Dr. Shafi, who is being detained over this case, have not been proved under PTA. Therefore, on July 5 the Defence Secretary was informed to order the release of the suspect. In response to the request, the Minister of Defence President Maithripala Sirisena annulled the detention order. Thereby, Dr. Shafi is cleared of the charges levelled under PTA,” the CID official said in court.
Complaints to JSC
The wife of Dr. Shafi, the Young Journalists Association (YJA) and the CID filed three separate complaints with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) a week ago alleging bias and misconduct of Kurunegala Magistrate, Sampath Hewawasam who heard the case of Dr. Shafi.
They complained to the JSC that when the instructions to withdraw the detention order had already been issued, the Magistrate had further remanded Dr. Shafi. YJA, in its complaint, requested the JSC to launch an inquiry into the conduct of Kurunegala Magistrate Hewawasam in the case heard against Dr. Shafi.
According to the B Report filed by the CID there are glaring conflicts of interests as the wife of the Magistrate is a subordinate employee of the Director of the Kurunegala Hospital S.Weerabandara. The Director is a key figure in the case. Not only that, the wife of the Deputy Inspector General of Kurunegala Police Kithsiri Jayalath (who is the 3rd Respondent in the Fundamental Rights application SC/FR/260/19 filed on behalf of Dr. Shafi) is also a subordinate employee of the said Director of the Hospital.
Dr. Shafi’s wife has requested the JSC a fair and impartial hearing by changing the presiding Magistrate or the Courthouse.
Meanwhile, appearing before the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) on the Easter Sunday attacks, CID Director Shani Abeysekera on Wednesday said that there is no evidence to back the allegations against Dr. Mohamed Shafi. He told the PSC that there is no evidence to prove that the Kurunegala doctor performed illegal sterilisation surgeries or has links to terrorist activities.
As the allegations against Dr. Shafi are for illegally conducting LRT (Tubal Ligation) operations on patients, the CID and Dr. Shafi’s legal representatives had requested the conducting of Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) -- a procedure that uses an X-ray to look at fallopian tubes and uterus - to effectively confirm the suspect’s innocence. One hundred and forty seven mothers who complained to have been sterilized after cesarean deliveries performed by Dr. Shafi were directed to attend an awareness programme regarding the HSG tests. According to international reports and records, HSG is a very safe procedure.
However, the attorneys who appeared on behalf of the mothers objected to the court’s directive giving reasons that the HSG test can expose the lives of the mothers to risk and make them vulnerable to cancers. The attorneys informed the Magistrate that the Kurunegala Hospital Director Weerabandara is the better person to provide an explanation regarding this.
Thus, the Magistrate had allowed Dr. Weerabandara, who is a dentist by profession, to explain the implications and risks of the HSG test. Delivering a long explanation, Dr. Weerabandara stressed that the HSG test could be very risky for mothers. Dr. Weerabandara informed the court that the HSG test would cause death, cancer or other complications in these women. Following his submission, the Magistrate suspended the test which was to be conducted.
Following the requests that came from the legal representation of the aggrieved party (mothers), the Magistrate ordered the Police to appoint Dr. Weerabandara to the specialists committee inquiring into Dr. Shafi’ case from a medical perspective. However, the Assistant DIG of the CID B.S.Tissera told the Court that only Gynecologists and Obstetricians could be members of the experts committee because they have broad knowledge of the subject.
Later, the CID had called for reports from several Government and private hospitals on the veracity of the claim by Dr. Weerabandara. Subsequently, the CID obtained records of any implications or problems experienced by patients after their HSG tests within past five years (2014-2019). Accordingly, following is a table which reveals the HSG records collected from the main hospitals.
Including the above hospitals, HSG records have been collected from a total of 12 Government teaching hospitals and four private hospitals. Among the total of 10,000 females, who had undergone HSG tests since 2014, there were only four reports of “breathing difficulties” and zero deaths, the B- report states.
The CID in its report dated July 11 stated that it had requested for a certified copy of the proceedings on June 27 which included the submissions made by Dr. Weerabandara against the conducting of the HSG test among others. However, they had been informed by the Chief Registrar that the submissions made by Dr. Weerabandara were ordered to be deleted by the Magistrate.
As mentioned in the last two paragraphs of page 15 of the report filed by IP Nishantha Silva, the Magistrate has ordered the stenographer to omit from the record the submissions made by said Dr. Weerabandara in open court and has failed to grant an order to make available copies of the said submissions to the CID.
The Young Journalists Association (YJA) in its complaint stated that permitting Dr. Weerabandara to make submissions although not a party to the case and the subsequent erasing of his statements from the court record give rise to issues of credibility of the Magistrate.
Taking another controversial turn, the CID in a report filed in Court said that the police reports compiled by the Kurunegala Police have been deliberately backdated with changes made to places to prove in court that there had been complaints before Shafi was arrested. The Kurunegala Police had produced a report which reveals ten complaints against Shafi supposedly recorded before his arrest.
However, the CID investigations have found that 9 out of the 10 complaints against Dr. Shafi were forged by the Kurunegala Police, the report said. The only complaint which had been lodged earlier was the one about damaging the ureter of a female. It was later found by the CID that it was not Dr. Shafi, but another doctor who had an involvement in the incident. Hence, the CID had informed the court that the Police had forged documents to justify the arrest.
Mothers waiting to file their complains at Kurunegala Hospital (REUTERS)
Statements of medical staffers
A CID team travelled from Colombo to Kurunegala to record testimonies from 615 mothers who had complained of having implications after their cesarean surgeries which they claimed were performed by Dr. Shafi. The CID had recorded statements from 47 doctors, 71 nurses and 18 minor staffers in compiling the 210-page report and the 24-page further report which were submitted in Court.
According to the CID, 45 doctors out of the total 47 had not levelled any sort of allegation against Dr. Shafi. A female doctor had told the police that she had heard others mentioning that surgeries performed by Dr. Shafi are suspicious. However, the same female doctor had had an argument with Dr. Shafi sometime ago which ended with Dr. Shafi complaining to the hospital administration to launch an inquiry into the incident. The other doctor has told the CID that Dr. Shafi had a habit of sending the remaining staff inside the theatre for various work when the surgery is about to conclude. The 71 nurses and 18 minor staffers including the 47 doctors had not uttered a single word about them witnessing any abnormal activity carried out by Dr. Shafi during cesarean deliveries.
Dr. Peshala Dangalla, one of the VOGs who worked with Dr. Shafi at the Kurunegala Hospital, in his testimony to the CID, has said that according to his knowledge a woman cannot be sterilized by squeezing her fallopian tubes during a delivery. In order to clear any doubts, all the women who complained, should get HSG tests done because it is the safest and efficient medical method in Sri Lanka to check the fertility or any abnormalities in the uterus and fallopian tubes, B-report quoted the VOG. He further said that a laparoscopy and dye test -- an operation using keyhole surgery to help find out why women are having difficulty becoming pregnant, will show if their fallopian tubes are blocked.
In giving his statement to the CID, VOG Sudath Pathinisekara, under whom Dr. Shafi was working at the time of the arrest, has said that not a single patient developed infections or implications after having done HSG tests or Laparoscopy tests. Meanwhile, the VOG at Matara Hospital Dr. Mohommed Ismeth Kabeer has related a similar story to the CID. Dr. Kabeer has said that during his service period as a VOG, he hadn’t heard of any patient developing serious negative after effects of the two mentioned tests.
After going through the statements of all the senior VOGs from different parts of the country, the CID came to a conclusion that the statement made by Kurunegala Hospital Director Weerabandara on June 27 in the court about mothers having risks of serious after effects and even death, is completely false, CID reported to the court.
Threats and intimidations
The complaints filed at the JSC by CID, Dr. Imara and YJA state that the Director of the Kurunegala Hospital Dr. Weerabandara had obstructed the officers of the CID who sought documentary evidence regarding the claims made by him in court on June 27.
Further, the CID has informed the Magistrate on several occasions that Dr. Weerabandara had obstructed the duty of CID officials who are working on the case. The CID has also informed the court that he did not show enough support for the investigations by providing necessary hospital records on time.
Ven. Rathana Thera, who has attended every session of the hearing in Kurunegala, has allegedly threatened the inquiring officer B.S. Thissera, who is an Assistant Superintendent of Police. According to the B report filed by the CID, Ven. Rathana Thera has told ASP Thissera that “The whole world is carefully observing this case,” while pointing a finger at him.
“The thera has even made critical statements in public media outside the Courthouse mentioning the name of the said inquiring officer of the CID. It is a violation of the section 04 of the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act, No. 4 of 2015,” B report cited. In that view, the CID has requested from the Magistrate for appropriate orders under section 124 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
My husband is a victim of a political game: Dr. Imara
The spouse of Dr. Shafi Dr. M.N.F. Imara, holding an MBBS degree from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, was working in the Nephrology Unit at the Teaching Hospital in Kurunegala. As the sterilization story involving her husband stirred controversy in the country, she not only had to move to another shelter with their three children, but also had to request for a transfer to another hospital to continue with her work.
“When we were searching for houses on rent, even the Muslims refused to help us. One family refused to give us the house even after we signed the agreement,” Imara said.
Narrating her ordeal she said, “I had to pull my children out of their old schools due to safety reasons. They were not having a pleasant time in the schools. I was worried about their education and mental health which is why I found them new schools. My eldest daughter who is 15 years old is still receiving counseling and therapy for depression. With the particular Sinhala newspaper repeatedly publishing false articles, featuring even my two daughters, my entire family is facing a tough time.”
While in CID custody, Imara had visited her husband several times. “With the chain of incidents that had taken place, he has realised that he was a victim of a political game,” Imara said.