Keystone Cops

A significant problem facing the average Sri Lankan citizen is the real possibility of being illegally arrested, illegally held long past the judicial period of 24 hours and brutally tortured to confess to a crime or crimes they have no knowledge of.

There is a huge list of arrests of this type which anyone from a western culture would dismiss out of hand as being unlikely if not impossible. In any civilised society the police would only arrest a person after making inquiries. That person would not be tortured or pressurised in any manner to make a confession and they would then appear before a court of law. If they wanted to make a voluntary confession, this would happen in the presence of a lawyer. If in the course of the arrest they were injured in any way, they would be offered medical treatment prior to being questioned.

None of this happens in Sri Lanka. The police arrest someone off the street, often beating them up in the process, then take them to a police station and torture them into making a confession. Could this happen in any civilised society? It does happen, on a daily basis in Sri Lanka.

One recent case involved a young man who had acid thrown in his face. The assailant had connections with the local police, and it was actually the victim who was arrested and held in custody for over a week without medical treatment. After pressure from local and international human rights groups the police finally allowed him medical treatment, but by then he had lost his sight in one eye.

In another case a man was arrested in front of his family, held for 12 days and tortured severely to hand over gold items he was supposed to have stolen. During his illegal incarceration he was visited by two lawyers and five members of his family. He eventually appeared in court charged with the possession of a large quantity of heroin, a non-bailable offence that carries the death penalty. The only flaw in police thinking was that the charge indicated he was arrested in possession of the heroin at a time when he was actually already in police custody - a fact confirmed by affidavits filed by the five family members. However, the higher ranking Sri Lankan police authorities, including the Inspector General of Police, National Police Commission and even the Attorney General's Department have done nothing to investigate and verify the validity of these affidavits.

Recently however, the Sri Lankan police showed a remarkable new side to their expertise. A group of senior officers from the Ratnapura Police Station arrested two officers from the Angunukolapelessa Police Station, Tangalle district. These officers were beaten up, taken to the Ratnapura Police Station and beaten again. They were “treated” by an unlicensed medical officer who filed a report that they were drunk at the time of arrest. The reason for their arrest and subsequent torture was that they had had the temerity to overtake a vehicle containing Ratnapura officers.

While this is certainly shocking and is yet another example of police brutality in Sri Lanka there is a bright side to all this. To put it quite simply, when the Sri Lankan police are busy beating each other up it leaves them little time to beat up innocent members of society. That the Tangalle officers were innocent of any crime is beside the point here. At the very least, if and when they return to active duty they might think twice about beating up an innocent citizen.