On January 9, in a dimly-lit court room of the Badulla High Court, five police officers and a civil defence officer were sentenced to death over the murder of 17-year-old Sandun Malinga from Megahakiula and assault of four others.
Sandun Malinga, a cheerful and optimistic boy, never hesitated to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Before his tragic end, he had staged a play in the village temple along with his friends. He had big plans for the play in the year to come but he did not live to witness that day dawn.
On May 7, 2014, Sandun was on his way to purchase a trishaw with his brother and three relatives when the foursome were arrested by the Kandaketiya Police. At the police station, they had been tortured severely by a group of drunken policemen and Sandun sustained internal injuries.
The next day, when his parents visited him, Sandun had told them that he was beaten and was not feeling well. Unfortunately, the parents’ pleas to hospitalise Sandun fell on deaf ears. When Sandun was produced before the magistrate, the lawyer appearing on his behalf informed the magistrate that he had been tortured. His father said he overheard Sandun complain about his plight. However, the complaint was ignored and he was not hospitalised. Instead, he was imprisoned till May 21. At the magistrate’s chamber, it was disclosed that he had been charged with treasure hunting. However, a statement released later by the Archaeological Department stated that there was no archaeological importance in the area and there had not been any illegal mining.
Prison authorities had promised to direct Sandun to the hospital. However, Sandun had not received any medical treatment till May 9 when he succumbed to his injuries. He had died in the arms of his older brother who had been arrested alongside him in the Badulla prison.
The autopsy carried out by the Judicial Medical Officer of the Badulla Hospital revealed that Sandun had been tortured. His internal organs had been injured as a result of the beating he had to endure.
Philip Dissanayake, the Executive Secretary of ‘Right to Life,’ a human rights organisation which played a pivotal role in pursuing justice for Sandun, said Sandun’s death could have been prevented if the District Medical Officer (DMO), magistrate or prison officials had fulfilled their duties.
“If he had been hospitalised within the 48 hours leading to his death, he could have been saved and the policemen would not have been sentenced to death. This shows the shortcomings in the mechanism in executing the law,” he said addressing a press conference.
“A DMO should submit a report after inspecting the suspect. But the DMO of the Kandaketiya Hospital had asked for the name and address of Sandun’s brother, but had not inquired anything from the other suspects. Hence, he has not fulfilled his job,” he added.
‘Right to Life’ has written to the Medical Council on the role played by the DMO over the death of the youth. However, Mr. Dissanayake charged that there was no investigation conducted.
“We wrote to the IGP, the police commission, prisons commissioner and the prison reforms minister at the time to take action against the officer in-charge and other police officers attached to the Kandaketiya police station,” he noted.
“In 2011, the UN committee against torture recommended that all suspects directed to the magistrate should be questioned as to whether they had been tortured. The government has promised to execute this proposal. But this magistrate did not act according to it,” he said.
Accordingly, a letter was sent to the Judicial Service Commission over the non-fulfilment of duty by the magistrate. But Dissanayake charged that there had not been an investigation yet.
Justice Delivered Forthwith
The verdict sentencing R.M.P. Somarathna (SI), D. M. Aberathna (PC), D. P. P. Gamage (PC), L. C. G. Silva (PC), S. M. Pushpa Kumara (PC), D. M. Wijerathna (Police Assistant) and S. M. Jayasundara (Civil Defence Force) was delivered on January 9.
“Though we cannot retrieve Sandun’s life, we were able to achieve justice. This verdict could be perceived as a positive sign of the supremacy of law and justice,” said Dissanayake.
“Law’s delay is prominent when it comes to criminal cases and usually they drag on for 10 years or more. Sarath Nanda Silva, the former Chief Justice, prior to leaving office said 94% of cases filed under criminal charges were dismissed as they couldn’t be taken forward or because defendants were released. Against such a backdrop, this verdict given within two and a half years looks promising,” he said.
Writ Mandamus filed
Mr. Dissanayake pointed out that the Attorney General (AG) should have filed a case under the Torture Act No. 22 of 1994 as Sandun died as a result of being tortured. Therefore, he said that for the first time his organisation attempted to file a writ of Mandamus against the AG.
“When a government official has not fulfilled his duty, we are able to file a writ of Mandamus. The case was accepted but finally the Court of Appeal informed us that since a criminal case had been filed, there was a difficulty in permitting it,” he said.
He added that though the Torture Act was ratified in 1994, cases were filed under the act only during the early part of the 21st century. However, he said it seemed as if there were no cases filed against this Act after 2006. Hence, he added that their effort was mainly to file cases under the Torture Act where such incidents occurred.
Substantiating his claim that the change in government had brought about reforms, he cited the independent commissions, National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission established through the 19th Amendment.
“There has been a relative decrease in the influence made on the Judiciary and the police. We believe this verdict is a result of these changes,” he added.
Justice Served Rightly
Amidst tears, Kanda Udagedara Mallika, the mother of Sandun, said though she had lost her son forever, she was saddened to hear the six police personnel being sentenced to death.
“Family members of the six cops were present that day and they wailed when the verdict was read out. There were around 30 family members including small children. Though my son was killed, I am heartbroken because six families will become destitute. Now, the culprits must be regretting their actions,” she said.
Expressing gratitude to ‘Right to Life’ for joining them in the bi-monthly case hearings, she also thanked the OIC and other police officers attached to the Badulla Police for supporting them and not siding with the perpetrators.
“My son pointed out three cops who had severely tortured him. We expected punishment for those three police officers and we thought the other three would escape taking advantage of a loophole. But justice was served rightly and they were all condemned to death,”
Sandun had been the strength of their family and helped them in all household chores.
“He sold vegetables and spices with me at the Meegahakiula market,” the still grieving mother said.
Meanwhile, Gamini Priyantha, the father of Sandun, told Daily Mirror that he received death threats from Police Assistant D.M. Wijeratne. Fearing for their safety, they have moved to Galle. Recollecting fond memories of his son, he said he was economical and did not waste a cent.
As Nandana Weeraratne, the producer of the short documentary portraying the plight of Sandun Malinga commented, Sandun is neither the first nor the last to die in a prison as a result of police torture. Sandun’s story remains a powerful testimony to the plight of countless victims who underwent injustice at the hands of the powerful, negligent and irresponsible.