Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Anniversary of Gerald Perera's murder: The ASP who was never prosecuted

By Basil Fernando - Gerald became a friend of mine through unfortunate circumstances. He was the victim of torture at the hands of an Assistant Superintendent of Police and a group of policemen attached to the Wattala police station.

Further misfortune was to follow. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, presided over by late Justice Mark Fernando, granted him all the relief that he claimed by holding against all police officers and awarding a recorded sum as compensation in a fundamental rights case.

It was only at this stage that Attorney General’s department thought of launching a criminal investigation against the police officers, which finally led to the filing of an indictment under the Convention Against Torture Act.

A short while later, a week ahead of giving evidence before the High Court of Negombo, he was shot dead while travelling to work at the harbour.

One of the accused police officers in the torture case, together with an accomplice, has been charged with the murder. Other accused officers have been made witnesses. His wife attributed the death to delayed investigation.

Does one murder case matter in the sea of murders washing across Sri Lanka? Rationally, it is impossible to say that it does not matter; however, if we are honest with ourselves then we must conclude that in reality it no longer matters.

I am trained as a lawyer. I recall that in my first year of training I and other students spent many weeks studying the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code by concentrating mainly on the offence of murder. Take away murder from the statute books and there would hardly be any point in studying the criminal law.

No one has removed murder from the statute books. It is there as before. But it has lost its significance. With it, the criminal law has also lost significance.

If the criminal law still had some significance then Gerald's case would be highly publicized and treated as extremely strange, as a blot on the system.

That is because the police officer most responsible for his death, the ASP who gave the order for his arrest without having any evidence, has never been held to account or even questioned.

The ASP was fishing for evidence of a triple murder for which he had been assigned six officers. After ten days he had not come up with any leads. He went after Gerald because of mistaken identity.

To find Gerald, the police took his wife into custody with a child. They forced her to telephone her husband and have him come for her. They arrested him on arrival and took him to Wattala police station, where they hung him from a beam and beat him with iron and wooden polls, hoping that he may divulge something.

At this stage, the police got a telephone call, which seemed to communicate that they had got the wrong man. They took him down and kept him till next morning, when they released him with full knowledge of the ASP. The family took him to hospital, where he entered a coma, only to recover after 14 days.

If the criminal law had any significance in Sri Lanka then it would be remarkable that throughout the criminal inquiry into this incident, no one questioned the ASP. Apart from the actual perpetrators of the torture, this ASP knew more than anyone about the events. He should have been made an accused in the case, as the CAT Act is broad enough to have accommodated him.

However, it is not in our legal culture to bring officers above the rank of OIC to be questioned, let alone indicted. As a result, this case has dragged on farcically over the last five years, to the present day. There are many other cases like it that similarly have been reduced to absurdity.

So long as higher ranking of state officers cannot be brought to justice for murder and serious crime, realistically, one more murder is nothing; neither is the Penal Code or the criminal law of which it is a part anything of significance.

© Sri Lanka Guardian

Related Links:
Sri Lanka: A Young Man Under Life-Support System After Tortured by Police - AHRC
Witness killed before case against police - BBC Sinhala

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