By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 7
Our account is based on reports, which appeared in the Sinhalese weekly Yukthiya during May 1993. Further clarifications were obtained by interview. Ragunathan was staying in an apartment in Sumitrarama Road, a crowded narrow street off Gunananda Road, Kotahena. People were often out washing and bathing, so that a newcomer soon becomes well known. It also had its illicit liquor den. It was an area closely supervised by UNP godfathers. The control of the Party and supervision of the area were very much the prerogative of Minister Sirisena Cooray, Premadasa’s lieutenant and UNP general secretary. We know the traditions followed by the Kotahena police in the Ananda Sunil case. With Premadasa elevated to president, Kotahena police station became very special.
In view of this it is remarkable that it took the Police more than ten days to locate where Ragunathan resided after his picture was splashed on television. The Police after a long delay “swooped” on the area and arrested Athula the owner of the apartment, but produced neither Athula nor any of the half a dozen persons who identified Ragunathan at the magistrate’s inquest. Other remarkable things happened.
A journalist at the Tamil daily Veerakesari received a telephone call from the couple who had ‘decamped’ from the apartment rented from Athula. This was about three days after the assassination. They identified themselves as Ragunathan’s sister and her husband. The journalist who knew the couple put them onto a senior journalist. The couple told the senior journalist that the dead youth whose face was shown in the media was the wife’s younger brother. A particular circumstance, which they told him, was that this youth, Ragunathan, had been detained by the Kotahena Police several months earlier. The journalist cannot now recall whether it was six months or a year. The reason was evidently that he did not have a valid identity card, but carried a photograph signed by his village headman (GS) in Jaffna. The couple then had heard that Ragunathan was at Kotahena police station from someone who had gone there to give food to another detainee and happened to see him. On going to the police station – this was after he was missing for about three days – the couple was told by the Police that they did not have Ragunathan.
They then got hold of a UNP agent well known in the area and went back to the police station. The agent was possibly the same man whose name transpires in what follows. This was a common practice in Colombo, in the event of Tamils being detained, and usually entailed a money transaction. The couple explained to the Police that they had applied for an identity card for Ragunathan and would get one in due course. The Police released Ragunathan asking him to come back with the identity card within a given period. Since the journalist had spoken to the couple on the telephone, he did not get details of what steps they had taken when Ragunathan went missing the second and final time.
The couple was Brahmin. Moreover, Ragunathan’s brother-in-law was known to a wider circle through his officiating at a Hindu temple in Kotahena. The couple was believed to have been at the embassy of a Western country to which they were hoping to emigrate. The Veerakesari did not publish this information apparently because the embassy did not want publicity. But this information leaked and the Veerakesari denied it to those who inquired. It was much later that the senior journalist confided this to a colleague from the Yukthiya.
Yet, independently the journalist from the Yukthiya had telephoned a leftwing activist in that area who confirmed Ragunathan’s former residence. Two journalists from the Yukthiya went to Gunananda Road. The leftwing activist had warned them, “Remember that I have to live here”. The journalists went to the tavern serving illicit liquor in Sumitrarama Road. The tavern keeper told them guardedly, “He (Ragunathan) was an innocent boy. It is all over now.” Other residents questioned in the area, admitted awareness of Ragunathan having stayed in the house that was sealed. But they did not say anything further. The leftwing activist a few days later telephoned one of the Yukthiya journalists and asked him to come there as he had some important information. The activist then took the journalist to a man whose job enables him to have a good view of what goes on down Gunananda Road.
The man told them that about three days before the Athulathmudali murder, Ragunathan was seen on the pillion of a white Chaley motor cycle ridden by a well-known local UNP figure known as Aluth Mawatha (New Road) Ranjith. Ranjith had stopped the bike with the passenger at the junction of Gunananda Road and Pickering Road and chatted to someone for awhile. This was widely witnessed. It was understood that Ranjith was taking Ragunathan to Kotahena police station to resolve a problem regarding his residence – all Tamils have to register with the Police. That was the last time the people of the area saw Ragunathan. We can now understand why it took so long (more than two weeks!) to identify Ragunathan’s body. It would appear that the Police did not want to identify him, although he was known to the people of the area and to the Kotahena Police.
The abduction of Ragunathan was widely talked about among the Police. But there was no certainty about what was done to him between that point and the appearance of the body in Mugalan Road. This is the area on which the Commission concentrated, and understandably so. One ASP from Colombo North had told his neighbour, a well-known Tamil writer, that he had heard that Ragunathan was thrust into a freezer. There seems to have been an element of speculation in such talk, except for a general agreement on foul play.
Some strong conclusions can be reached on the basis of what we have said above, the historical context and the record of the UNP mafia in that area – e.g. the Ananda Sunil case. But these are useless for a court case that would require pinning individual culpability. This is what the Commission tried to do and failed. But their work cannot be dismissed as fiction. It is interesting that even after a change of government the Police could maintain almost total silence on the issue and confuse the public with dubious confessions. We may say in conclusion that the Athulathmudali murder was planned and executed by that part of the UNP organisation which had the Kotahena area under its purview. Moreover, the murder and its cover- up have involved the state machinery at the highest levels. Having been at that time cabinet minister, UNP secretary and a key figure in the local UNP organisation in the area concerned, Mr. Sirisena Cooray owes the public an explanation on the affair. Unfortunately, the Press too has joined in the cover up. We move on to the Vijaya Kumaratunge assassination.
To be continued..