Two police officers; a Sub Inspector and a Police Constable attached to the Pussellawa Police Station were suspended on Sunday after a 33 year old man died while in police custody, amidst fears that he may have been tortured till death. However, the police said that the victim, K. Ravichandran from Pussellawa died after committing suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell using the shirt he was wearing.
The incident resulted with residents from the area taking to the streets to protest against the police and demanding for justice. The victim’s body was ordered to be sent to the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital for the postmortem which will help determine the cause of the death.
The development comes just a few days after a 22 year old youth went missing while in police custody at the Hambantota Police. The incident resulted in four police officers attached to the station being interdicted. The youth was however found on September 15.
In May, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez exposed some of the most brutal forms of torture used by the Sri Lankan Police while questioning suspects. The most brutal forms of torture used by police to interrogate suspects include; beatings with sticks or wires on the soles of the feet (falanga); suspension for hours while being handcuffed, asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene and hanging of the person upside down; application of chili powder to face and eyes; and sexual violations including mutilation of the genital area and rubbing of chili paste or onions on the genital area. He made this disclosure at the conclusion of his official visit to Sri Lanka in May this year.
On Wednesday, Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara to get his act together and to ensure that his officers don’t act in a manner which will result in the public losing faith in the police.
Soon after the incident where the 22 year old G. G. Gayashan, went missing while in the custody of the Hambantota Police, a visibly angry Wickremesinghe who had met Jayasundara for a urgent meeting to discuss the recent escalation in the crime rate had openly expressed his displeasure over the Police Chief’s conduct and his failure to discipline his officers since taking over in mid-April.
Following the incident at the Hambantota Police and the obvious negligence on the part of the officers the station, four police officers were interdicted. Acting Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana while addressing the press conference on Wednesday at the weekly cabinet briefing agreed that there had been a ‘shortcoming’ on the part of the police which resulted in the disappearance of Gayashan.
Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission believes that Gayashan ran away from the police to escape torture. In an article written by him and published in the Colombo Telegraph, Fernando pointed out that when the police commit graver crimes of torture and ill treatment on suspects, they are only transferred.