Are the authorities refusing to ‘see’?
A gruesome scene after the prison riot
The witness plays a vital role in concluding the verdict of any case. Hence, it’s very important to ensure the safety of witnesses. The continuing practice of victim and witness intimidation is a prevalent problem in Sri Lanka, despite it not openly discussed much. With the purpose of preventing those from testifying against offenders, illegal interference and intimidation are levelled by offenders as they try to remain free and to continue committing crimes.
Welikada riots, which took place on November 09, 2012, claiming 27 lives of inmates, was subject to severe reprehension in the society. The shoot-out incident that happened within the prison was witnessed by many jailers and inmates apart from the armed forces who stormed the prison.
Lawyer Senaka Perera
A key eyewitness Sudesh Nandimal Silva, who was in remand when the riots took place, had been fighting for justice of the dead prisoners. Being the only living witness who is involved in the campaign against the Welikada incident, Nandimal has been continuously threatened by various groups since he was released from prison. He had lodged complaints with relevant law enforcement authorities, but to no avail.
Being the only living witness who is involved in the campaign against the Welikada incident, Nandimal has been continuously threatened since he was released from prison
For the fourth time, on Tuesday (11), Nandimal and attorney-at-law Senaka Perera, the counsel who appears for him in a writ petition filed at the Court of Appeal, were allegedly to have been threatened with death. Both had received a telephone call at around 7.45p.m., urging them not to pull up the Welikada case. This threatening incident comes 6 days after both gave an interview to the Daily Mirror in a follow-up article regarding the Welikada riots. The article was titled, ‘Welikada riots witnesses ready to back those denied justice’.
Nandimal said he was warned that he would have to face many problems if he continued his fight for justice. He said this wasn’t the first time he has been threatened. “This is the fourth time I have been threatened, including with death,” Nadimal told the Daily Mirror.
“Weeks after I gave testimony before the CID in 2012, two men in a vehicle followed my motorcycle for several days. They have visited my workplace and inquired about my whereabouts from the security guards. The vehicle number, noted down by the guards, was later found to be of a vehicle belonging to the Police Narcotics Bureau. This was established in an investigation launched by the Maligawatta Police on my complaint,” However the inquiry didn’t proceed thereafter.
This threatening incident comes 6 days after both gave an interview to the Daily Mirror in a follow-up article regarding the Welikada riots. The article was titled, ‘Welikada riots witnesses ready to back those denied justice
On October 2, 2015, two unidentified men have threatened him in Moratuwa, urging him not to take up the Welikada case as some of them will have to end up behind bars. Sudesh Nandimal had lodged a complaint with the Moratuwa Police. No investigation was initiated, he said.
He said that lately, presenters of some radio programme had branded him as a traitor and slung mud at him. In spite of a complaint lodged at the Police Division for the Protection of Victims and Witnesses, no inquiry has been initiated thus far.
Meanwhile, lawyer Senaka Perera told the Daily Mirrror that he was also asked to get himself out from the writ petition in which he appears for Nandimal to seek an order, directing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the CID, Director to commence a fresh investigation into the incident.
On March 19, 2016, Nandimal had written to the Inspector General of Police, referring to the above threats and requested for protection and action against those responsible. Yet, he hasn’t received any response.
However both of them said they aren’t willing to give up their fight despite threats. Senaka and Nandimal charge the law enforcement authorities are failing to stop the threats that continue.
Law Enforcement Agencies must act forthwith
- Human Right Lawyer J.C.Weliamuna PC
“Law enforcement authorities must take actions immediately. Under the Witness Protection law, this is a non-bailable offence. Although this kind of incidents had happened earlier with regard to other cases, this is more serious because both the lawyer and the only living eye witness who has been testifying against the culprits were intimidated.
The CID is doing a pretty wonderful job in cases of the murder of ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen and journalist Lasantha Wickramatunge
“In addition to that, the Bar Association also should intervene into the matter because the lawyer had to face this experience while he was performing his duties.”
He also spoke about the delay in investigating the Welikada incident.
Under the Witness Protection law, this is a non-bailable offence
“Nothing happened before the change of the government. There are a large number of uninvestigated cases relating to the incidents that happened during the previous government. We see less political interference under this government. I believe that this case, in 2012, where 27 deaths of inmates were reported in Welikada, should be handed over the CID. The CID is doing a pretty wonderful job in cases of the murder of ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen and journalist Lasantha Wickramatunge. It will take some time for the CID to finish the investigations because they happened many years ago,” the lawyer remarked.
We will urge the police to expedite inquiry
- Bar Association Secretary Attorney Amal Randeniya
“There are several committees in the BASL to probe such incidents. I will personally discuss with the President of the BASL Attorney U.R.De Silva regarding the threatening incident of the mentioned lawyer Senaka Perera. As far I am concerned, Senaka Perera is a respected lawyer who does his job right.
“We will go through the complaint first. We will directly inform the relevant parties.
As Senaka Perera had already lodged a complaint with Nittambuwa Police, as the Bar Association, we will urge the police to expedite the investigation and bring the culprits to book.
“We will also need an affidavit from Senaka. There have been such instances where lawyers complain with the BASL against such alleged threats while they practise their profession. After sometime, they don’t stay with what they stated in the complaint.
We will go through the complaint first. We will directly inform the relevant parties
“Some parties, especially in criminal cases, like judges and lawyers get threatened. It has been there for a long time. That is why the BASL is there to safeguard the lawyers and judges, ensuring their safety and freedom so that they can perform their duties as professionals.”
Awaiting AG’s instructions
- Officer in charge of the Victims of Crime and Witnesses Assistance and Protection Division, SSP G.J.A.Wijesekara
“My division was formed in November, 2016. According to the procedure of the division, once we receive a complaint of threatening and intimidating a witness or a victim, facts of the case are referred to the authorities and seek instructions on further actions.
“When it comes to this particular case regarding the Welikada riots, eyewitness Nandimal Silva, the division is currently awaiting instructions of the Attorney General Department as to what should be done hereafter.”
How a witness can seek protection
QWhat are the existing government institutions to protect victims and witnesses?
The Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act, No.04 was established in 2015 to protect the victims of crime and witnesses. Based on the Act, the establishment of National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses was set up. According to the Gazette Extra Ordinary No.1966/02 dated 09/05/2016, the subject that lies with the scope of the Authority was entrusted with the Ministry of Justice.
The Authority is responsible for investigating and monitoring the infringement of rights and entitlements of the victims of crime and witnesses, making recommendations to state institutions, public officers and courts of law and guarantee protection of the victims of crime and witnesses.
Under the direction and guidance of National Authority, a Division called “The Victims of Crime and Witnesses Assistance and Protection Division” was set up in Sri Lanka Police in November, 2016.
In Sri Lanka, currently there are several ways witnesses can seek protection from the government.
1. The National Authority for the Protection of victims of Crime and Witnesses.
2. The Victims of Crime and Witnesses Assistance and Protection Division.
3. Courts of law.
4. The Commissions (The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, The Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruptions, Investigations Commissions or a Special President’s Commission of Inquiry or any other Commission appointed under the Commission of Inquiry Act.
5. Officer-in-Charge of the Police in the area.