In a remarkable turn of events, the Director of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital Dr Sarath Weerabandara has been issued a summary transfer after a complaint by the Government Medical Officers Association.
In its letter to the Ministry of Health, the GMOA points to Dr Weerabandara’s inefficient management of the hospital, his arbitrary handling of affairs at the hospital and a list of 13 charges against the director. The GMOA told the Ministry in its letter that Dr Weerabandara’s poor management of the hospital would put lives at risk during the COVID-19 crisis. Responding swiftly to the GMOA’s complaint, the Ministry of Health transferred the director with immediate effect.
Weerabandara was a close confidant of SLPP strongman Wimal Weerawansa and led the May 2019 witch-hunt against the Muslim surgeon from Kurunegala, Dr Mohammed Shafi. In collaboration with the DIG Kurunegala and the SSP of the area, aided and abetted by the Kurunegala Magistrate whose wife was an anesthetist at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, Weerabandara manufactured a forcible sterilization scandal that eventually drove the Muslim doctor and his family out of his home-town. An exhaustive CID investigation into the charges leveled against Dr Shafi found the entire scandal to have been manufactured, a criminal conspiracy to persecute a Muslim surgeon and taint his family with links to terrorist groups in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings. ASP Tissera and former CID IP Nishantha Silva led the investigation which included a B report of 210 pages the department submitted to the Kurunegala Magistrate’s Court.
Evidence even surfaced that some of the women who had complained against Dr Shafi had been offered money to lodge complaints.
At the time the GMOA stood stoically with Dr Weerabandara, even mobilizing its members to prevent a three man commission appointed to investigate the alleged scandal by the Health Ministry from entering the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital to conduct an inquiry. The controversy raged for months with Weerabandara and his cohorts claiming that Dr Shafi had surreptitiously sterilized Sinhalese women during C-Section surgeries. On several occasions Weerabandara, whose specialty is dentistry, took the law into his own hands by announcing investigations against Dr Shafi and attempting to make interventions in court in Dr Shafi’s magisterial inquiry in order to dispute tests performed in the course of a CID nvestigation on women claiming to have been rendered barren as a result of Dr Shafi’s alleged tampering with their reproductive systems.
At least one of the female complainants was found to have been three months pregnant when she claimed Dr Shafi had sterilized her without her permission and subsequently gave birth.
The Muslim doctor was arrested and detained for two months on the false charges. Once the CID disproved the charges against Dr Shafi, the senior cops involved in the scandal were transferred by order of the National Police Commission but Weerabandara remained in his position, owing to the patronage of powerful SLPP politicos and the GMOA which was offering him protection from censure and an inquiry by the Ministry of Health then run by Minister Rajitha Senaratne. By the time the Muslim doctor was released on bail, his family had been run out of town, with leading schools in Kurunegala and tuition classes expelling his three children.
All the major players in the Dr Shafi scandal were eventually linked to the SLPP, which was stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of the Easter attacks across the country, in a bid to help its candidate to victory at the November presidential election.
Leading the charge was Dr Channa Jayasumana of the Rajarata University who first made the false claims on his Facebook page, a well known supporter of the Rajapaksas and the SLPP. Also stoking tensions and whipping Sinhalese women into a frenzy was Athuraliye Rathana, the former JHU monk who supported Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidacy in 2019. Weerabandara who fuelled the scandal within the hospital at which Dr Shafi worked, has been nominated as a candidate from Kurunegala on the SLPP ticket for the parliamentary election.
After the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa this coterie managed to get the Dr Shafi case reopened. ASP Tissera who led the investigation for the CID was also investigated about his methods. The reopening of the Shafi case has also formed part of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s witch-hunt against former CID Director Shani Abeysekera.
Colombo Telegraph learns that this powerful pro-SLPP lobby has also been instrumental in urging the President to act against attorney Hejaaz Hizbullah on trumped up charges of involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks. As Dr Shafi’s lawyer, Hizbullah was instrumental in filing the Fundamental Rights petition on the Muslim doctor’s behalf and initially represented him in the Magistrate’s Court case. Hizbullah was arrested by the CID on April 14 and has remained in detention since. He is yet to be given proper access to his lawyers or produced before a magistrate in accordance with the law after three days, even as a suspect being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. (By Janakie Mediwake)