SSP Shani Abeysekera retired from the Police Department when he marked his 60th birthday on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, even as fears mount for his safety.
The high-profile criminal investigator with an illustrious record of solving some of the most complex crimes in the last two decades, should have been feted upon his exit from the Sri Lanka Police. Instead, Abeysekera retires this week under a cloud of allegations that the country’s second highest court has called “a result of falsification and embellishment and a creature of after-thought.”
Last Friday (25) SSP Abeysekera wrote to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), requesting protection because he was facing consistent threats of assassination and physical harm. See SSP Abeysekera’s letter to the IGP in Sinhala here.
Abeysekera told the IGP that he had made similar appeals for protection from every state agency tasked with providing protection to witnesses and victims of crime, including the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses, the HRCSL, the Attorney General, and even the Chief Justice.
On the day he was interdicted by the Police Department, January 7, 2020, he had received a call at 11.23 PM on his mobile telephone, Abeysekera told the IGP in his letter. “The caller threatened me and my family with assassination.” His letter added that there were criminal elements operating in the country who nurtured “deeply vengeful” feeling towards the investigator whose work resulted in their arrests and incarcerations. The letter emphasized that he was eligible for protection under the Witness Protection laws of Sri Lanka.
The presidential pardon granted to Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra’s murderer, former MP Duminda Silva has heightened fears for the investigator’s safety.
Abeysekera led the investigations into Premachandra’s 2011 murder that resulted in Silva’s conviction by a High Court Trial at Bar in 2016. Silva was sentenced to death for the crime. In 2018, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka upheld the judgment. Duminda Silva is a long-time ally of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Until Premachandra was murdered on election day in 2011, Silva, a known drug-cartel leader in Kolonnawa, served as monitoring MP to the Ministry of Defence.
His presidential pardon by Gotabaya Rajapaksa was long expected. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration’s efforts to discredit SSP Shani Abeysekera in the public conscious and throw doubt on his criminal investigations stemmed in large measure from building the case for Silva’s pardon.
Silva’s drug connections and links to criminal elements in the underworld, greatly heightens the risks to Shani Abeysekera’s life.
Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council Core Group on Sri Lanka, led by the UK, called on the Sri Lankan Government to ensure SSP Abeysekera’s safety.
In an interview with a Colombo-based newspaper last week, Ahimsa Wickrematunge, daughter of slain editor Lasantha Wickrematunge also expressed fears for his safety. Shani Abeysekera would never be safe from harm in Sri Lanka as long as her father’s killers and the perpetrators of other atrocities were free men, Ahimsa said in the interview. As CID Director investigating Rajapaksa era atrocities, Shani Abeysekera came too close to revealing the truth about those behind the crimes, she said. “Powerful people have a vital interest in concealing the information Abeysekara and his team uncovered during their criminal investigations,” Ahimsa Wickrematunge added.
Earlier this week the Young Journalists’ Association also wrote to the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses, insisting that SSP Abeysekera is given protection because he qualifies as a key witness in high crimes. See full letter here.
SSP Abeysekara was arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division on July 31, 2020. The CCD accused him of fabricating evidence by way of introducing weapons to implicate former Deputy Inspector-General Vass Gunawardena, the main suspect in the 2013 murder of businessman Mohamed Siyam. Vass Gunewardane was convicted of the murder by a High Court Trial at Bar in 2016. In trumping up allegations against SSP Abeysekera, the CCD relied on complaints made by Vass Gunewardane’s accomplices in the murder, which the Court of Appeal said could not be trusted.
The Court of Appeal said Vass Gunewardane had admitted to ownership and possession of the weapons in his dock statement at the murder trial that the CCD was accusing Abeysekera of planting to implicate the former top cop. The complainants had waited six years to make the allegations against SSP Abeysekera, the Court of Appeal noted in its order granting bail to the former CID Director.
“On account of the said unusual and extraordinary delay, the complaint has not only lost the benefit of the advantage of spontaneity, but also smacks of the introduction of a fabricated, false version and an exaggerated account or concocted story involving a set of collaborators or conspirators, to unduly cause prejudice and harm to the suspect Shani Abeysekara, for collateral purposes,” the order noted.
See feature report on SSP Shani Abeysekera’s career: