By Rajan Hoole –
A clearer picture of what was behind the events would emerge if we look at the testimony given about the actions of the various actors, what Sansoni accepted and what he rejected.
13th August 1977:
HQI Gunasekera maintained that the policemen who invaded and misbehaved at the St. Patrick’s crnival had gone in search of two robbers. On the evidence, Sansoni accepted the contrary.
13th or 14th August:
PC Sattanathapillai testified that DIG Ana Seneviratne said at an Instruction Class that ‘all Tamil PCs have contributed to the ULF’. This allegation was rejected by Sansoni.
The testimony of L.A. Saverimutu that SP A.S. Seneviratne had told him that the Tamils will pay dearly for th gun-shot injury cause to PC Bandara, was rejected by Sansoni.
PC Sattanathapillai testified that on the 15th night a eting of police officers including SPSeneviratne, inspectors, sergeants and constables was held at the SP’s house. He added that after the meeting a group of them made an entry about going to Pungudutivu, but went instead to the market and set fire to it, at 1.30 AM. This was rejectedy Sansoni as ‘prejudicial hearsay evidence’.
Mr. Yogesweran MP was told about the burning of the market at 5.00 AM, but was unable to contat SP Jaffna by telephone. He then contacted Mr. Wijepala, GA Jaffna, and Mr. Amirthalingam. This was about 5 AM according to Amirthalingam’s statement in Parliament.
Mr. Wijepala too tried SP Seneviratne and failing to get through, contacted the Police station and was informed that the station could not contact the SP.
Mr. Wijepala then telephoned ASP Noordeen, conveyed Yogeswaran’s information and asked him to go to the SP and keep things in check. Wijepala also stated that Noordeen had responded by reminding him that a policeman had been shot on the 14th night. Sansoni accepted Wijepala’s testimony as against Noordeen’s denial that Wijepala had called him and put this down to his not having carried out Wijepala’s instructions. All this evidently happened before 6.00 AM.
A.S. Seneviratne claimed that his direct telephone line was not working, but the extension from the Police Station and the one in his office were working. Sansoni observed that ‘there is some mystery about the failure of both Amirthalingam and Wijepala to contact SP Seneviratne through the Police Station.’ Amirthalingam had said in Parliament that the SP had been uncontactable in the evening the previous day (Monday, the 15th) on both the direct and the station lines. It was a working day and his direct line would normally have been kept in order as a top priority.
Having failed to reach the SP (about 7.00 AM according to the statement in Parliament), Amirthalingam telephoned Deputy Defence Minister Werapitya and Prime Minister Jayewardene. He then called the Jaffna Police Station and wanted to speak to the SP within 5 minutes. Amirthalingam said that the SP called him and appeared surprised when told about the situation. The SP is then said to have phoned the IGP and DIG.
The SP, Mr. Seneviratne, and the HQI, Mr. Gunasekera, denied to the Commission that policemen were moving about in uniform without their numerals. Sansoni accepted the testimony to the contrary – that policemen had indeed been moving about in uniform without numerals – made by Amirthalingam and supported by Doctors Amarasingam and Dassanayake. This suggests that the intentions of the policemen were not legitimate.
From what Sansoni has accepted, ASP Noordeen had been appraised of the situation by GA Wijepala by about 6.00 AM. Sansoni accepted that Noordeen did next to nothing, apart from reminding Wijepala that a policeman was injured on the 14th. Noordeen had apparently not even told the SP. An apparently surprised SP heard it from Amirthalingam not long afterwards. Neither of them took any measures to fight the fires in the city. Even after 10.00 AM the local Army and Navy were not forthcoming when contacted by the Additional GA. It seems incredible that Noordeen should go to the town at 8.00 AM to discover that an ‘unruly mob’ has taken it over, and only then decide to act.
At 11.00 AM a radio message was sent from Jaffna to the IGP, purporting to be from SP, Jaffna: “Today 4 CTB buses set on fire. Naga Vihare, Jaffna, is being attacked. Crowd collected at Railway Station, Jaffna, to attack in-coming passengers. Situation serious.”
PC Kumarasamy said that this message was dictated to him by HQI Gunasekera, which he wrote down and passed on to Radio Operator Jacob, in the Radio Room. Inspector Gurusamy contradicted PC Kumarasamy’s claim that he was present when HQI Gunasekera dictated the message. Gurusamy further said that when the Radio Communication Centre made a query about this false message, he sent a message in the SP’s name at 11.15 AM, cancelling the false message.
HQI Gunasekera denied any connection with the false message and stated that he heard about it for the first time only on 5th September 1977 when ASP Noordeen was holding an inquiry into the sending of the false message. Sansoni observed that the message was sent with mischievous intent.
Sansoni rejected as not supported by a shred of evidence, the written submission by Mr. Lesslie Bartlett, attorney-at-law. Bartlett had stated: “There can be no doubt that the false message was transmitted with the complicity of the DIG, Mr. Ana Seneviratne, the SP, Mr. A.S. Seneviratne, and HQI Mr. Gunasekera, who were in their stations at the time it was transmitted.” Sansoni however said that he was unable to decide who was responsible for the false message.
The fact that Police Radio had been used to transmit such a malicious message was known that very noon to Police HQ, to Jacob the radio operator in Jaffna and to Inspector Gurusamy of the Jaffna Police. It should immediately have become a subject of inquiry and SP, Jaffna, would have been apprised of it.
Since PC Kumarasamy, a Tamil, admitted to having given the message to Jacob, the Police should have been able to determine whether it originated from Kumarasamy or from someone else. HQI Gunasekera’s claim that he heard about it only 19 days later has no credibility. Moreover, if indeed Inspector Gurusamy had sent a second message in the SP’s name 15 minutes after Jacob had transmitted the false message, it would be incredible if he had not immediately told the SP. Why did Sansoni not pursue this important matter?
On the same day (17th August), both Amirthalingam and the Additional GA separately brought it to the notice of the DIG Ana Seneviratne that some policemen had hijacked a CTB bus and were breaking into and stealing from jewellery shops. Both times the DIG pooh-poohed the idea and refused to accept it. Amirthalingam also said that the DIG had told him that the troubles had gone to Anuradhapura and Kurunagela – tomorrow it will spread to Colombo and other places; it will be worse than 1958. Sansoni suggested that the DIG may have been making a forecast on the basis of information received and may have been sharing his views with Amirthalingam.
Now, there is a broad measure of consistency in the Police attitudes and patterns of behaviour signified by the part of the testimony above, which Sansoni accepted, and that which he rejected. Moreover, on several crucial matters Sansoni has himself accepted that senior police officers made false representations or that their conduct was open to question. This would suggest that their words deserve even less credit than what Sansoni has given the testimony of the Tamil PCs Sattanathapillai and Kumarasamy. In fact, both PCs were in service when they testified before the Commission. Sattanathapillai said in his testimony that Terrence Perera, who succeeded Gunasekera as HQI Jaffna, had told him, “You have let down the Police Force”.
The acts of commission and omission by the Police on the 16th morning, even as admitted by Sansoni, included the mysterious inaccessibility of A.S. Seneviratne, SP. Also inexplicable was his failure to keep himself informed of grave events just across the esplanade, and his ASP Noordeen’s failure to take any meaningful steps on the GA’s information. These point to some complicity.
If we go beyond Sansoni in accepting, as we do know to be the case, that it was the Police who were behind the acts of arson and destruction in the Bazaar during the wee hours of the 16th morning, all the testimony above rejected by Sansoni falls into place. We then have a picture of the Police indulging in calculated acts of provocation to stir up disorder.
In the wake of this disorder came communal attacks on Tamils in several parts of the Island. The unexplained police radio message on the 17th, which would have been picked up by the Police throughout the Island, suggests that a section of the Police was active in spreading false rumours.
DIG Ana Seneviratne told Amirthalingam on the 17th about communal violence in Anuradhapura and Kurunagela etc., but it took the state media (e.g. The Daily News) until the 20th to publish refutations of false rumours – which included the supposed gory fate of Sinhalese students in Jaffna University. It was on 22nd August that Prime Minister Jayewardene’s message went out to Army and Police personnel to deal effectively with the communal violence.
Sansoni has made two points, which appear valid when taken in isolation of the context. In disbelieving the journalist L.A. Saverimuttu’s testimony on SP A.S. Seneviratne’s threatening words, Sansoni expressed grave doubts about an experienced police superintendent being so indiscreet. He made the further point that PC Bandara who was shot on 14th August, was the 4th to be shot during 1977. The other three had died. It is here that Sansoni fails to take into account the all-important change of political climate, and the resulting alteration of power relations between the people and officers of the State.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here