By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 5
Ananda (Kochikade) Sunil, a Sinhalese, was chief organiser for the SLFP in Premadasa’s pocket borough in Colombo North and held this post through the presidential election and referendum of 1982 and the local council elections of May 1983. He was a strong supporter of Vijaya Kumaratunge, then a prominent leader in the SLFP. He is said to have earlier been a UNP supporter. It is also generally known that Premadasa had been making overtures to draw Vijaya Kumaratunge into the UNP as other sections of the UNP had been making overtures to Anura Bandaranaike and Maithripala Senanayake in the context of divisions engineered within the SLFP.
The following account of Ananda Sunil’s disappearance is taken from a Civil Rights Movement document of October 1991 titled Presentation on the Climate of Impunity and from press reports in October-November 1983.
Sunil lived in a flat in Newham Square, Kochikade. On 27th July 1983 at the height of communal violence, there was curfew on during the night. At 10.00 PM while Sunil’s wife Kodippili Seetha and Sunil were in bed, three armed police officers walked into the flat and dragged Sunil out into a vehicle, assaulting him on the way.
A woman of the area told Sunil’s father, Jananayake, that Sunil had been abducted by the Police. Jananayake went to his son’s home with his wife Mary Catherine and his sister. On the way, he met two eyewitnesses Hemasiri and Pitche who identified two of the police officers concerned as Inspector Sharvanandan of Kotahena Police and Sergeant Ekanayake of Jampettah Police. At Sunil’s home he found Seetha carrying her daughter and crying. By then, a crowd had gathered on the road. Later, on the road, Jananayake and a companion met Inspector Shanthikumar who lived in that area coming in a vehicle. He later took them to Kotahena Guardroom and had the father fetch Seetha. Shanthikumar told Seetha that he had told told Sunil that evening of the impending incident.
He sent Seetha and Gajanayake to Kotahena police station with a Navy patrol, which came there. After waiting 45 minutes at Kotahena police station, Inspector Sharvanandan came there with ASP Ronnie Gunasinghe. Seetha recognised Sharvanandan as one of the abductors and when she went out to be taken home by the Navy, she saw and identified the vehicle in which the two officers came as the one used by the abductors.
In the coming days Sharvanandan directed Seetha to several prisons in turn where she went in search of Sunil, but to no avail. She then got an audience with the IGP Rudra Rajasingham. The latter telephoned Sharvanandan and then said that he would be looking into the matter. Seetha went back to Kotahena police station where Sharvanandan told her, “If you are looking for your husband through high places, continue looking through them. I did not take him.”
Seetha filed a habeas corpus application at the Appeal Court, which was then referred to Colombo’s Chief Magistrate Keerthi Srilal Wijewardene for inquiry. Sharvanandan gave the Magistrate’s Court the alibi that he had been out with ASP Gunasinghe investigating a triple murder. The Magistrate disbelieved this since there were no corresponding entries in police registers to substantiate his claim – only an entry in the register for Minor Offences made the following morning. Gunasinghe was seen in Court, but did not give evidence to substantiate the alibi. A constable, Ruberu was seen talking to witnesses in Court, but could not explain his presence when questioned.
We now quote from the CRM document: “However the Magistrate, unjustifiably in our view, felt there were infirmities in the wife’s evidence which made it unsafe to act on. The two other eyewitnesses went back on their earlier identifications which they had made in statements to the Police and in their affidavits filed in the Court of Appeal, and now said they had heard nothing and seen nothing. An officer in plain clothes from the police station in question was found to be in Court speaking to the witnesses, and when questioned by the Magistrate was unable to give a satisfactory explanation of his presence.
“On appeal to the Supreme Court it was held that the magisterial inquiry was unsatisfactory and the case was sent back for fresh inquiry before another magistrate….
“The second inquiry commenced, but was not concluded as the petitioner did not want to continue with it. The fate of Ananda Sunil remains unknown.”
The ‘infirmities’ in Seetha’s evidence arose from the fact that in the course of seeking justice she had made complaints to several police units including Police HQ and CDB. She had also seen the IGP and had gone to the office of DIG (Metropolitan), Edward Gunawardene, and had left behind a complaint although she did not see him. As compared with the affidavit prepared for her habeas corpus application, there were omissions and some discrepancies in the police statements. The latter, she said, were not read back to her. The eyewitnesses too went back on their statements.
In a telling incident, on 1 Nov.83, Inspector Sharvanandan came to court bringing the eyewitness Hemasiri, who had earlier identified him as an abductor. That Sharvanandan brought him was substantiated by Hemasiri’s absurd claim when questioned in Court that he had come walking and had hired a trishaw for the last 150 yards to the Court. Sharvanandan laughed aloud in Court for which he was pulled up. Hemasiri went back on the statement where he had identified Sharvanandan and had before coming to Court recorded a statement in the CDB, where he said that he only heard a noise.
Seetha declined to continue with the inquiry on the understandable grounds that she at least must stay alive to look after the children. We mention this here because when sections of the Police wanted to discredit the Athulathmudali Murder Commission inquiry which was pointing to Police complicity, alleged confessions from a supposed LTTEer were leaked to the Press (e.g. Island 20.1.97 and Sunday Times 9 and 16 Feb.97). These confessions were purveyed with the added claim that they were recorded independently by four different police units (as in the Ananda Sunil case!). When the victim is powerless and the Police so powerful and corrupt, their records are of little value. We may also note that the Magistrate concerned is the same man who conducted inquests into the Welikade Prison massacres 3 months earlier.
On the Sunil case, the CRM further observed that the alibi claimed by the suspect officer and disbelieved by the Magistrate had so far as is known, not been probed. This could have been easily done as the officer claimed to have been on official duty. The suspect officer remained in position throughout the inquiry. Moreover, as far as is known, the IGP made no further inquiry about Ananda Sunil despite the Supreme Court judgement, which he should have done irrespective of the petitioner’s decision as to proceeding with the habeas corpus case.
A CDB officer told us that it is well known in the Police Force that on an instruction given by a very powerful UNPer in that area to ASP Ronnie Gunasinghe, Sunil was abducted and then dragged along the breakwater and thrown into the sea. Sharvanandan was later SP Colombo North – the same area – while Gunasinghe went to Colombo Central as SSP. Gunasinghe died in the same explosion that killed Premadasa. The Police hierarchy clearly lent complicity to the cover up of Ananda Sunil’s fate. Not only did the superiors fail to interdict Sharvanandan, but even failed to stop his high- handed interference.
We referred in the last chapter to a case in the same area (in July 1991 when Sharvanandan was SP) where 3 policemen from the Bureau of Special Operations who made arrests regarding a smuggling case, were in turn detained by the Colombo North Police at Foreshore for 6 days. This was done on a magistrate’s order under Emergency Regulations. The Magistrate released them when the Colombo North Police tried to shift from Emergency Regulations to the penal code. This gives us some idea of the atmosphere in Colombo North where the Police, UNP interests and allied underworld interests were inseparable. This link encompasses both the July 1983 violence in the Pettah-Maradana area and also, as we shall see, the Athulathmudali murder. Ananda Sunil’s tragedy is an instance of how the anti-Tamil violence served multiple agendas.
To be continued..