2 June, 2023


Discrepancies In Proceedings: The Harsha Abhayawardena Case

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Rajan Hoole

Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 12

During the weeks following the assassination of VK, 5 suspects were arrested by the CDB in the Kirullapone area, who confessed to one or both of aiding and abetting the crime. Shortly after Premadasa was nominated the UNP presidential candidate A.S. Seneviratne, DIG (Metropolitan), asked I.T. Canagaretnam, SSP, CDB, for lists of suspects held by them. A list of 24 persons was sent with details of offences. For the 5 involved in the VK case, Canagaretnam recommended that 3 should be held and indicted for murder after inquiries are complete and the other 2 could be released on bail. An order then came signed by the IGP, Ernest Perera, on 4th Oct.1988, to release several detainees including the three in the VK case for whom detention was recommended. When Canagaretnam checked back, Seneviratne ordered them re-arrested. By then, most of them had been released. Consequently, only 2 were in custody (the others could not be found). However, they too were released along with about 1800 suspects on 14th Jan.89 when Premadasa lifted the emergency.

When the Commission questioned Ernest Perera about the release order, he said that it was a typing error! The Commission did not accept this, and questioned the seriousness of the Police in investigating VK’s murder. There are other reasons why we cannot accept the complacent answer that in those days killing JVP suspects was normal. By late August 1988 the Police believed that the same weapon was used by different groups to kill VK, Harsha Abhayawardene (HA) and Terrence Perera. The three were being investigated parallely with the CID and CDB in regular contact. Arrests in any one case were bound to provide leads to the others.

For example Asoka and Jayantha who passed on to Lionel and Tarzan the orders to kill VK, may have known individuals connected with the other cases as well. Thus identifying individuals who fell into the police net and establishing cross-connections should have been in the minds of investigators, as a means to building up a strong case. Thus whatever the relative importance of the victims themselves, investigations and arrests in all three cases should have been treated as complementary. This appears to have been the case until late September 1988.

Thus, the order from the IGP to release the three key suspects under detention in the VK case is a break in continuity that would have confused those on the case. In the HA case, five persons had been arrested by the end of April 1988. The second accused, Hemantha Dias, escaped from Magazine Prison during the jailbreak in December 1988. The case was brought before the Colombo High Court in mid-February 1989. The first accused, Lasantha Wijewardena made a statement in which he said that his confession was extracted under prolonged torture and assault. The State Counsel claimed that he was rather assaulted by the people when he made another murder attempt, before being handed over to the Police. The Judge fixed the hearing for 8th May 89. On that day the State Counsel asked for a ‘long date’ to complete their preparations. The Judge objected and fixed a date about a month later. We could find no further references to this case.

It surfaced again in the Press in mid-1991 (Island 11.6.91) after about a two year ‘long date’. Senior State Counsel Nihara Rodrigo told the Court that the first accused was shot dead by an ‘unknown person’ on 23rd September 1989 while he was warded in the General Hospital – presumably under guard! Liyanage, the fifth accused, he said, had been shot dead while trying to escape. Only the 3rd and 4th accused were produced in Court. In mid-July 1991, the Court was trying to determine from SSP Chandra Jayawardena whether the statements recorded by him in April 1988 were voluntary. It was obviously a rotten case.

Even the excuse that Harsha Abhayawardene was more important to the Government than Vijaya Kumaratunge does nothing to explain the utterly negligent manner in which the latter’s assassination was handled. After all the Police would have had a complete case in the latter instance since all the main accused had passed through Police custody and there were eye- witnesses. If the same weapon were used in both assassinations, the VK case would at some point have thrown light on Abhayawardene’s assassination and vice versa. Even in the case of the two in custody over the VK case after the alleged ‘typing error’ in the release order was discovered, the authorities had not filed charges under the penal code by the time the emergency was lifted 3 months later. We are left with a choice between gross incompetence and political interference.

The VK case seems fated to go through some strange twists. For three years, based on the commission report, the PA government blamed the UNP for VK’s murder. At the end of 2000, the JVP emerged from the general elections a significant force winning 10 seats, having also a trade union arm. Subsequently, the PA government moved to reopen the VK case by re-arresting the suspects released in late 1988 and early ’89.

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

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