Mystery over the deaths of IUSF activists
Complaint lodged with CID for thorough investigation
niversity education or higher education is a dream for every student during his/her schooldays because it is widely regarded as a jewel in the crown for every aspiring individual to become a distinguished academic – a graduate and pursue their career towards a bright future.
Some grab the golden opportunity to attain the highly successful positions while some fade out due to their own fate and some are misled by others, especially by people with political influence and become rebels. There are several individuals whom we have heard through history; some have become highly popular who had gone to the extend to change the fate of certain countries while others remained rebels and eventually perish without being able to reach their goals.
In Sri Lanka, most of the university students across the country were following their lectures and preparing for their exams, whereas a section of others go on strike or engage in street protests as part of their student union activities.
The Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) which is known as ‘Anthare’ is one prominent students’ movement that has the clout to coordinate students spread across almost all universities in the country. In Sri Lanka, university students are not legally barred from engaging in political and social activities off-campus.
According to statistics, suppression of the students’ movements has increased considerably over the recent years. In the past, we have heard of a number of extrajudicial deaths of student activists, including Padmasiri Thrimavithana, a talented student in the Medical Faculty of the University of Colombo was abducted and tortured to death, 27 years ago.
On September 27, 2012, two leading student activists -- Sisitha Priyankara de Silva (24) from Mutwal and Janaka Bandara Ekanayake (22) from Kabarawa in Thalangama were killed in an accident in the Imbulgoda area during a massive five-day procession from Kandy to Colombo.
Police said that Janaka Bandara, (President of the Kelaniya University Students’ Union and a final-year undergraduate), and Sisitha Priyanka, a first-year undergraduate at the Ruhuna University, were travelling on their motor cycle when the accident occurred.
The Daily Mirror looked into the matter as there was strong speculation about the two deaths – whether it was in fact an accident or they were deliberately killed. The two students were on their way to Colombo to pick up some leaflets to distribute during the procession.
Police reports said their motorcycle veered off the road and hit a lamp post.
But the youths’ relatives who refused to accept the police version alleged that they were murdered by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s authorities during the previous regime. The victims’ relatives along with the IUSF had lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) demanding a thorough investigation. Protests are still being carried out by the IUSF demanding an impartial investigation into the two deaths.
Tyre trails at the crash site
“The duo was front line activists of the IUSF. There are reasons and evidence to believe that these were murders. We have serious doubts about their mysterious deaths as there are many contradictions to the story.
“Deaths of Janaka and Sisitha are similar to that of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen” - Former convener of IUSF Najith Indika
They stayed overnight at Gampaha and had to go to Colombo to pick up the leaflets for the campaign procession. I visited the place where they had spent the night around 5.30 am and I got to know that Janaka and Sisitha had already left. My attempt to contact them too ended in failure. So, I decided to visit the communication centre where the leaflets had been printed. On our way to Colombo, we stopped at the Imbulgoda junction and noticed a gathering. We imagined something horrible had taken place to our friends. However, we did not see anyone of them but understood that both Janaka and Sisitha were taken away by the police before the Magistrate visited the site claiming that they were still alive, and therefore had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.
“But, the villagers and onlookers told us that policemen had asked the villagers for jute sacks to cover the bodies. The Police now claim that the mobile phone of one of them is missing. What is the fuss? How can such evidence go missing? Not only that. When the Judge ordered a probe into their phone records, the Police claimed no calls had been recorded during the week which preceded their deaths even though phone records of those who communicated with these two students stated otherwise, with detailed counts of such calls. It was clear that the Police was trying to conceal the truth. The deaths of Janaka and Sisitha are similar to that of rugby star Wasim Thajudeen’s and therefore it should be investigated thoroughly.”
“The Judge ordered an accident reconstruction, but it was not done by the analyst” - Ms. Rajika Silva, the Lawyer appeared on behalf of the victims at Gampaha Court.
Eye witnesses had told the victims’ parents and relatives that the two bodies had been loaded into a hearse before the Magistrate had visited the scene
“During the hearings, the Judge ordered a reconstruction to be done by the analyst. A reconstruction is a scientific approach to solving any queries regarding how and why an accident occurred. The court order was given as a result of our statements regarding the nature of the accident. We all visited the scene to witness the reconstruction of the accident. But, the analyst visited the place and said he had examined the motorcycle at the police station itself and saw no need to carry out a reconstruction. He plainly avoided doing the reconstruction. Eye witnesses had told the victims’ parents and relatives that the two bodies had been loaded into a hearse before the Magistrate had visited the scene.
“Meanwhile, former Police media spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana told the media that one of the youths was pronounced dead after being admitted to the hospital. These are contradictions. Some say that the two were beaten to death and then brought to the ‘scene of accident’ and dumped. Meanwhile, the post-mortem report said that one of the students had been under the influence of alcohol. But it was strongly denied by their friends and the family members.”
“When the Judge ordered the police to provide phone communication records from the relevant telephone service provider, they said no calls had been recorded one week prior to their deaths, whereas the phone records of others who had called the two during that time clearly showed that calls had been responded. Finally, the Judge determined that the telephone service provider had misled the court by presenting inappropriate reports. Judge Tikiri Jayathilake informed the court that action will be taken against that relevant service provider after informing the Attorney General.”
“We became suspicious when we heard the statement issued by the former Police media spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana who told media that Janaka and Sisitha were still alive when they were admitted to the Gampaha Hospital. But the people who were around the scene told us that the policemen had been looking for jute sacks to cover the bodies of my brother and his friend before being admitted to the hospital. It is obvious that they already knew about the deaths. Janaka and Sisitha had their cell phones with them when the accident took place. But the phones went missing at the scene. Witnesses and onlookers told us that the Police sergeants were spreading the blood-soaked ground with sand. Legally, the scene should not be intruded by anyone until the Magistrate arrives. But, it was reported by reliable sources that the ground was even washed by the Police. But, when we reached there, tyre trails left by a vehicle, probably a van were clearly visible on the road. We strongly suspect that a car would have swerved at the victims’ motorcycle causing the rider to crash. According to the post-mortem report, the speeding motorcycle had veered off the road and hit a lamp post. But, the motorcycle was not in a good condition since it was an old model bike and quite wrecked. Therefore, it was hardly possible to imagine that it had been ridden fast enough to cause a fatal crash. They were wearing helmets, too. According to the post-mortem, the deaths were caused by serious head injuries. Why were the helmets removed from their heads as soon as the accident took place? There is much to assume that is contradictory and suspicious. That is why we are still saying that it was not an accident but a planned murder.”
“It was not an accident, a planned murder” - Nuwan Bandara Ekanayake, twin brother of Janaka Ekanayake
“Some people who do not like to appear in courts have given us this information. So, it is difficult for us to prove the allegations since we are helpless. After all, I am willing to say something about the suspects. My brother Janaka had been beaten by people who claimed to be allies of a former Kelaniya-based politician. He had been at the front in the five-day procession marching from Kandy to Colombo organized by the IUSF. He had received death threats from several people who said they were from the CID and Police. Several telephone calls claiming to be from the CID came on our landline. They pressurized us to prevent our brother from engaging in student union activities. We heard from an onlooker that two PSD vehicles had been seen in the vicinity of the accident. We suspect the authorities of the previous regime been behind this inhuman act with the intention of discouraging and intimidating the students from engaging in such activities.”
“My son was a clever and studious boy who had completed his A/Ls with flying colours. When he died, it was just two months before his graduation with a special in political science. My son Janaka does not have any enemies as he was pleasant to every person. After we received several telephone calls asking our son to stop his student union activities, I begged him to abstain from doing so. But every time I started talking about it, he said he would never tolerate injustice. Janaka was very a straightforward boy but what led him to lose his life at this tender age was extremely tragic. What we are asking for is justice for my dead son and his friend Sisitha. We hope the new Government would take appropriate action against the culprits.”
“He had received threats and intimidations several times. But, he said he would never remain silent before injustice” Kumari Hearth, mother of Janaka Bandara Ekanayake
“He was a very nice boy with good virtues. After completing his A/L’s in the Commerce stream, in spite of financial obstacles he entered the Ruhunu University with many hopes for his future. Sisitha was just 20 years old when he left all of us. He told on several instances that he had received threats to kill him unless he gave up student union activities. Although I asked him to give up, he was adamant to fight on behalf of thousands of students who continue their studies despite various difficulties. However, after I heard from the Gampaha Police station, I was called to identify my nephew. His face was deformed that I found it difficult to identify.”
“He wanted to fight on behalf of thousands of students”- Dhammika Priyanthi, Sisitha’s aunt
“This death was very suspicious for us because when Sisitha’s body was uncovered and checked during embalming, an undertaker had found my nephew’s hands and legs were broken. My own brother was alongside the undertaker when the body was brought to the morgue. That was how we came to know it. Despite many attempts to inform the authorities about it, all ended in failure. It is still a mystery that who did this to Sisitha and his friend Janaka. After thinking deeply about the cause and the nature of the accident, anybody can rule out the possibility of an accident. We know that the duo had been tortured and butchered by the Government authorities who considered our sons as troublemakers. They were in the frontline in picketing activities organized by the IUSF in several circumstances where injustice was shown to the students. That was why they died in this manner. Now a new Government had sworn in. They had pledged to let justice prevail where it should. We are hopeful now.”
“The then Opposition Leader and incumbent Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe came to the funeral and promised to intervene and find out what really happened to Sisitha and Janaka. So, I now request him to pay more attention to this matter as he is now in a position to take appropriate action against the culprits.”
“We still cannot comment on the incident”- Police media spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara
When I inquired from the CID, they said that the order from the Gampaha Magistrate via the IGP was to handover the case to the CID for further investigations, which was received only last week
“We still cannot say anything regarding the incident. We only know the information through previous police records. When I inquired from the CID, they said that the order from the Gampaha Magistrate via the IGP was to handover the case to the CID for further investigations, which was received only last week. The CID has not yet commenced the investigation and said they will start soon,”