By Ashan Nanayakkara –
Rambukkana is small town locates 37-km from the hill capital, Kandy. This remote town has majority of people in the cast called ‘bathgama’ and they are also known as ‘padu people’ by locals. This clan of people used to be low-cast segment of the old Kandiyan kingdom. Due to this discrimination of the society, these people are naturally fearful, backward and very regressive. The current economic rescission marred in Sri Lanka has spread the width and breath of the country and Rambukkana too overwhelmed with long queues, scarcity of food, interruption of electricity for long hours, dearth of finding fertilizer, searching for domestic cylinders of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) delay of supply of fuel and what not, just like other areas of Sri Lanka. In this backdrop, an organized, pre-planned gunfire was launched on 19-04-2022 in the aforesaid Rambukkana town targeting mob of unarmed civilians when the latter were exercising their right to expression which is enshrined by the Constitution.
Couple of months ago, when the picketings were slowly originated against the Reajapaksa Government, the Minister of Highways – Johnston Fernando who is a close ally of Premier said that, “once a raven is crashed and when its wings are hung to display, the people will stop this protest”. That is the sadistic ideology of Rajapaksas used to practice and what happened at Rambukkana is an indictment thereto. So, as per the writer, this Rambukkana shooting incident was nothing but a horrendous killing. Below mentioned are the sequence of events:
The CEYPETCO (Ceylon Petroleum Corporation) – the government distributor of fuel increased its oil prices by 90 rupees for a petrol litre and 113 rupees (this price hike equals to a loaf of bread) for a diesel litre. The aforesaid over-night climb of the prices of fuel brought citizens on to the road. It became the norm that the masses crowd in numbers in queues at the fuel stations from two to three days as there is a huge scarcity of fuel in Sri Lanka since January 2022. Week ago, the writer himself saw about 2-3 kilometers long fuel queue in Rathnapura town. Having barely celebrating the Sinhalese and Hindu New Year due to economic calamity prevailed, the people of Rambukkana had to gather around Co-operative Society fuel station, on this date, too, seeking for the next fuel bowser truck.
Much anticipated fuel bowser reached to the fuel station of Rambukkana with the sun rise of 19-04-2022 and according to protestors, this bowser had left 16-hours before the morning of 19th April 2022 from Colombo. From Colombo to Rambukkana, it only takes just 2 or 3 hours journey. Technically, if the fuel bowser had left Colombo on 18th morning it should have reached to Rambukkana during the day time on 18th April 2022. Until midnight of 18th, there was no increase of fuel prices. It is alleged that the aforesaid fuel bowser was ordered and supposed to be reached to Rambukkana either on previous day (17th) or, least, during the day time of 18th, was prevented by the owners of the fuel station reaching to its destination speculating the government would increase the prices from mid-night, 18th. The delay is to have a killer out of price change. It is a whopping price hike of 113 Rupees (after this, total value of a diesel litre peaked to 328 rupees) for one litre of diesel and as a result Sri Lanka ranked as the country which has the highest fuel prices in the South Asian region. Sri Lanka also records 154% of inflation in month of April.
Dawning of 19-04-2022
Once the news came into public on price hike, in the morning of 19-04-2022, countrywide protests were spontaneously erupted. In Rambukkana, too, the exhausted angry men commenced riots due to the simple reason that the fuel bowser which was left Colombo whilst the price of a diesel litre was 176 rupees and thus the fuel bowser came in the morning should not be sold according to the increased price. Thousands of men who were crowding at the fuel station for couple of days to fill juice to their vehicles got furious when they were told that the fuel can only be sold according to the revised price. For the last 3-months the fuel prices had increased 3-times and the instant price hike was unbearable to the people. Masses fell onto utter despire due to the economic downturn lasting in Sri Lanka since the beginning of this year and most of the families now find hard to make ends meet.
In Rambukkana town, the Co-operative society fuel station is located about 100-200 metres away from the railway crossing. In the morning, the agitated hoi polloi stopped one fuel bowser on the railway crossing blocking the movement of the trains. Those who were there say that the battery of the bowser truck was removed by the rioters and some made that vehicle flat tyre. There was another bowser truck which was asked to stop at the same place. The drivers and the helpers of the 2-browsers were asked to vacate the vehicles. As per the evidence recorded, the driver and the helper of the browsers were treated nicely, though. Some protesters had given food and water to them and the browser drivers and the helpers unharmed. In the meantime, the protest was escalated and the Rambukkana Police brought police officers for the purpose of restoring the normalcy. Those who were present at the vicinity state that, there was nothing notable happened between the demonstrators and the police officers of Rambukkana police station except the campaigners shouting for the fuel for yesterday’s price and slogan of “#gotagohome”.
Evening of 19-04-2022
One witness testified before the Magistrate of Ke-galle stated that there was a white vehicle came from Ke-galle side in the evening and unfamiliar group of people entered in, who were not among the crowd which he has seen since the morning. The aforesaid new faces alleged to have brought by the police. This group of people started to throw stones towards the police officers no sooner they came to the vicinity as of it was their fight. Suddenly, the peaceful protest turned into so aggressive due to these new set of men. Now, it is circulated in the social media that a person with a green t-shirt tries to set flame to the browser front grill, who too arrived in with the police troops. Over and above that, when this green t-shirt guy was trying to set fire to the front grill of the browser he was stopped by no police officer. Locals confirm that this man is a petty thief in the area who has close contacts with the police. Therefore, the picketers accuse that the Police brought this man to the crime scene to set fire to the bowser and turn the peaceful protest to disgust, thereby, to unleash their violence.
Coming back to the group of men who came from Kegalle side in the evening hours, seem to be pelting stones towards the police officers from their arrival. In response, the police initiated to throw stones over the railway lines to the main road where the demonstrators were assembling. When, the aforesaid hired men who were mixed in among the other protestors started to throw stones to the direction where police officers were gathering, the Police shot tear gas in the first place. In this juncture, according ample video footages shared in the social media showcase an entering of a senior police officer who was in charge of the police troops. When the stone bombarding begun, this senior officer ordered upon the junior Police officers to ‘attack’. The sounds of live ammunitions started to hear. One witness named, Anurada Rajapakse who gave evidence before the learned Magistrate Hon. Wasana Navaratna, disclosed that when the police officers were firing to the sky, they were specifically commanded to fire directly at the crowd; not to the sky by the said senior Police Officer.
This was a damning revelation and the said witness also testified that the right hand shirt of the said senior police officer had two batches of stars and one national emblem. According to the witness, this man was the police officer who gave the orders to shoot at the crowd. The aforesaid senior police officer was standing 10 to 20 yards away from the witness. In terms of the video footage which is circulated in the social media it is now identified that the aforesaid senior most officer is notorious Senior Superintendent of Police, K. V. Keerthiratna.
Further, witnesses who appear before the learned Magistrate testified that the group of police officers set fire to one three-wheeler. This incident is recorded in the videos shared in the social media too. Thus, once can reasonably presume that the said three-wheeler was burnt by the police.
The writer had talked to one person who was at the crime scene, comment in anonymity, said, that by the sunset on 19th April 2022 more than half of the protestors had left the town as they were completely exhausted due to entire-day-long protest, and standing in queues for days and nights. The same person says that the energy of the protestors and the size of the mob were dwindling in the evening and it was about to be dispersed by their own volition until that hired men who initiated throwing stones towards the police. It was also informed that unless a new group of people acted in vandalizing manner, the demonstration would have over by the dusk, shedding no single drop of blood. Yet, notwithstanding all, the shooting started by the orders of the man with two stars and national emblem on his khaki shirt (those batches can only be worn by an SSP – Senior Superintendent of Police) which ultimately lasted about an hour, as the writer learns.
Those who carried the guns chase the demonstrators out and shot. These were not shotguns nor rubber bullets. These were T56 which were aimed at the civilian Sinhalese by the Sri Lanka Police at the broad daylight. The writer can imagine how hard the aforesaid police officers may have treated to his Tamil brethren during the time of war in Northern Province. There are abundance of testimony and video evidence to prove that some men were chased down to the end of the road and shot. Out of 15 casualties who have been admitted to the Kegalle hospital, one man has died. He is one Chaminda Lakshan. The eye witnesses say that Chaminda was murdered by this police assassins at close distance. Information comes from Kegalle Hospital which divulges that another three men who are still in critical health condition to this date at ICU (Incentive Care Unit). A doctor, giving information in secrecy, told that, those 3-patients had been shot on their belly and/or abdomen which may have been occurred due to firing at the close proximity. In Sri Lanka, the police is not permitted to shoot above the knee and the injured men who are fighting for their lives in the hospital are the evidence that the Police have violated that law and shot at the crowd at will.
During the site visit of the Kegalle Magistrate, several eye-witnesses marched forward and testified that the police officers pursuit and shot at the people while they were running far away from the demonstration. It was also found that some were individually chased out and shot by the police when those men were pleading for mercy. The University student who was carried to the hospital when his intestines were falling out of abdomen. It is not rocket science to conclude that such fatal injuries can be occurred only if the victim is shot at close distance. This proves the murderous intention of the Police and the lethal force they released. Each and every scene was either recorded or eye witnessed.
Now what Police say?
According to the police, the protesters, first, started to burn the fuel bowser and to protect the public property and the lives of the civilians at large the police used minimal force. This is the defense of the Police. However, the pictures are now coming out that one person worn a green colour t-shirt comes along with the police set fire to the grill of the bowser which was stopped blocking the railway. Further, the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – Ajith Rohana, in justifying tone, commented on the murder of Chaminda Lakshan and babbles that the Police have found that there are two pending court cases against the deceased who was shot dead. What a pathetic answer given by such a senior police officer to the media. What an inhuman way to respond when his department found to have murdered an unarmed citizen of this country. Thus, the defense of the police is worse than the offence. If we are to follow the aforesaid low-witted Senior Deputy Inspector of Police – Ajith Rohana’s logic, alas, any citizen in this country who has got 2-court cases must be shot dead!
The police say that the protestors try to set fire to the diesel browser and to prevent this act they had to use force. Answering to this, one gullible villager asks that if that is the reason for firing at protesters, then why the civilians were shot dead and were injured hundreds of metres away from the diesel browser. These men were as poor as church mice due to current economic recession. They were hungry, they were frustrated, and they were completely crestfallen. They were just pleading for fuel on the previous day’s price which is very reasonable ask. They were not commandoes neither do they possess any weapon. Moment, shooting started, they ran like sky falls down. So, why did the police shot them on boulevards when they were running away for their lives? How does a man who runs 100 to 500 metres away from the fuel browser could ignite a fire. These are questions must be raised in the murder trial (if any).
Intimidating the witnesses by the police after the incident
When the Hon. Magistrate visited the crime scene one eye-witness came forward and given evidence as how did he saw the police brutality set released. Even before the site visit was over, when the Magistrate was around, one Inspector of Police (IP) had approached to that man who gave evidence before the Magistrate saying that the said witness will be hung and assaulted till he die if he strives to give evidence again in courts. Luckily, this was found by some of the Lawyers who were present there and volunteered for appearing for the aggrieved parties, and this was brought to the attention of the judge forthwith. The action of the said errant police officer who tried to intimidate the witness was duly noted by the learned Magistrate and what happened to that police officer afterwards the writer is unaware of.
Further, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka had written to the Authority of Victims of Crimes, and, in response, it was discovered that as the police have unleashed a terror in Rambukkana area there are so many eye-witnesses afraid of come forward due to the danger on their lives.
Giving evidence at courts the wife of deceased Chaminda Lakshan informed courts that a truck of Sri Lanka Army had parked for about an hour close to her house and some men with Army uniform had forcibly built a tent at the funeral house without her permission. Maithri Gunarathne, President’s Counsel of the view that this is an act of intimidation by the government to stop the voice of the victims.
Forging and/or doctoring Court’s documents by Sri Lanka Police when the Magistrate gone for the crime scene
On 20th April 2022 when the police reported facts to the Magistrate, police filed the papers via “A” report. Such “A” report is normally submitted to courts when there is no suspect has been found, whereas, in this shooting, there are abundance of videos and eye-witnesses to give evidence on who has shot and given the orders to kill an unarmed civilian. Hence the learned Magistrate reprimanded the police on this type of reporting of facts to the courts and furthermore ordered to file afresh “B” report. The new “B” report was prepared in haste and ironically the police had to put section 298 of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka in the new “B” report. The section 298 connotes punishment for homicide. Having learned Magistrate completed her visit at the crime scene and presided on the bench in the evening of 20th April 2022, the sharp lady judge observed that the B” report has been tempered and section 298 has been erased by using a tippets. When it was further inquired from the court staff it was also found that the police had taken the document out and cooked the books. Sacrilege, this is a court document and when someone changes the content of such document it amounts to the penal offence of forging of documents and perjury. The team of lawyers headed by Riyanzi Arsakularatna, PC., Upul Jayasuriya, PC., Sarath Jayamanne, PC., Upali Mohotti, PC. insisted to put the Senior Superintendent of Police of Seethawaka Zone who is also the inquiring officer, to be charged and put on the dock forthwith. Having worshipped twice to the Magistrate and crying and placing his family problems and other personal difficulties, the above said SSP got escaped. It was rumored that the one Senor Deputy Inspector General of Police who handles police media division was behind the said tippets saga.
Attorney General comes to defend the Police
On 21st April 2022, when the Magistrate’s court matter was taken up for delivering of some orders by the Magistrate and for the enquiry of inquest, one Senior Deputy Solicitor General (SDSG) appeared on behalf of the Attorney General’s Department. The aforesaid officer hoodwinked that he is acting on behalf of the Attorney General of the Republic and will participate for the inquest as an amicus curiae for the sole purpose of assisting courts. However, when it was asked to mark his appearance in the case record, the said officer was excited and reluctant to record his appearance as an officer of Attorney General’s Department. In the interim, the said Senior Deputy Solicitor General time to time made oral submissions on behalf of the police and vehemently objected when a witness was shown a photograph of the Senior Superintend of Police who said to have ordered to shoot. This conduct of the representative of the Attorney General confirms that the latter is appearing not for the interest of justice, or to assist the courts, but to defend the assassins. The behaviour of the said officer of the Attorney General’s Department was appalling and it is a clear indication that the Attorney General of the Republic shall not stand with the people anymore. In Sri Lanka, people insult to police officers as, “ata pass police karaya” (the one who just managed to pass grade eight) as they are so dump; then, what about, Attorney General?
“In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise” (vide Article 3 of the Constitution). Sovereign People of Sri Lanka who entrusted their executive rights under the Constitution to His Excellency the President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, under Article 4 (b) of the Constitution has found him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office. The Sovereign People of Sri Lanka who entrusted their legislative rights under the Constitution to the 16th Parliament of Sri Lanka, under Article 4 (a) has found the Parliament completely incapable of curbing the excesses of the office of Presidency as envisioned under Article 38 of the Constitution. Hence, exercising our right of Sovereignty, the Sovereign People of Sri Lanka would not accept the incumbent Executive and the Legislature henceforth.
To such country, if the IMF dice to grant loans, remember, those are not given to its people; but to its corrupt rulers. Once a People’s Government comes into power, the Sovereign People shall not be liable for such finances given to please the crooked regimes!