freedom of expression

The Army, The Police and Torture

Asanka Abeyratne

During the recent past, there were two separate incidents related to law and order that gained notoriety in both mainstream and social media. One incident was the appointment of Presidential Council Saliya Peiris as the Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Bar Association. Not only local lawyers but also human rights activists and civil society organizations have been closely monitoring the Bar Association election. Everyone including those who support human freedom, human rights, and democracy all expected Mr. Saliya’s appointment. 

The second incident mentioned above is the police brutality towards the law student Migara, who was beaten by the Peliyagoda Police. Both these incidences are not novel incidences with regard to legal institutions in the country. This shows current threat to the lives of those who the law is obligated to protect. As those who are in favour of democracy, freedom and rights, celebrated Mr. Saliya’s appointed as a ‘boost’ for the country’s law, it signaled that the bar was in crisis prior to this.

Why do we always hear about kidnappings, unlawful arrests, disappearances, torture and unlawful retention when the subject of the Sri Lanka Police or Army comes up? The most repulsive of them all is when the police or army get involved, most often than not, the accused becomes a victim, the innocent becomes the suspect, and the actual wrongdoer is freed before the law. It would not be surprising if the law student who was beaten up faces the same challenge. The evidence against this student given by the police is that he provided the suspect with a cellphone and disrupted the police investigation. The Peliyagoda Police is about to confirm the famous Sinhala statement “Naduth Haamuduruwange. Baduth Haamuduruwange”.

On the night of February 25th, 2021, this particular law student arrives at the Peliyagoda Police in order to visit a female suspect held there. Following a confrontation, the student was beaten and injured by the police. Any citizen of this country has a right to visit a prisoner or a suspect held by the police. Thus, the Peliyagoda Police obstructed by force the rights of this student as well as the rights of the suspect. If someone who is visiting a suspect in jail is beaten up, the safety of the actual suspects held by the police is brought into question. Countless reports of police brutality on their suspects, torture, and even at times murder has been reported. They have even been taken to court regarding this. However, there have also been nearly as many incidents when the wrongdoers walked free or faced minor punishments. 

However, the police and the army have the means in which they can modify evidence, thus turning the tables making the innocent the suspect. However, we cannot in any way justify kidnappings, disappearances, torture, or murder. But we have often seen these very victims being prosecuted for the possession of drugs, illegal weapons, or some other illegal object, making them the accused instead of the victim. This is a major threat towards law and order. Hence, we will not be surprised if the police officer who beat up the law student is soon released even though he faced a temporary suspension.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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