The past two weeks or so have been crucial for many Sri Lankans as Paul Walker — a cine star who shot to fame in the late 90s through the Fast and Furious series — died a fastlane death. Walker died on the 20th of November in California, USA. On the 22nd of November, two days following Walker’s death, a main suspect related to the double murder of a Police constable attached to the Kamburupitiya Police and his wife was shot to death by the Kamburupitiya Police. This suspect (as it is the customary practice of suspects of this country who die while in Police custody) has tried to fire a weapon at his custodians and the Police (once again, as is often the custom of the Police in such situations) has opened fire with such force resulting in the suspect’s death.
On the 27th of November, five days since the killing of the first suspect — and as the Sri Lankan fans of Walker was preparing Walker’s seven day alms giving — two further suspects of the Kamburupitiya murder dies, while jumping into a bog in Denagama, in the Hakmana area. The suspects had led the Police to the edge of the lake where they had apparently hidden some weapons, and after showing the Police where the weapons were hidden they had jumped into the water, handcuffs in tact. Both were drowned.
On December 2nd, the so-called Chief Suspect of the killing of the Police constable and the wife — Wasantha Chinthaka alias Ketayam Chinthaka — succumbs to injuries received at a shootout with the Special Task Force, as (as it was reported) Chinthaka’s “hideout” in thick jungle was surrounded by the STF who “engaged” Chinthaka in a bullet exchange. The pro-governmental “Dinamina” of the next day had sensationalized this “mission” against a ruthless killer. It was interesting to note that even relatively moderate media had not questioned the lack of integrity behind the killing of four suspects, who — according to the due process — have to be produced before courts, in cold blood by the law enforcement mechanism of the country.
Today, two weeks since the Police constable’s killing, the issue of the murder seems to have been settled and sealed, as all 4 suspects have been given wings and harps by the Kamburupitiya Police and the STF. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the death of Paul Walker coincided with these four killings and the violent death of the Police officer which triggered the resultant bloodlust, and the public attention was thereby defocused and led astray.
The death of Walker comes after an illustrious career in a series of cinematic ventures which involved risk, adventure and plenty of wasted bullets. Messages of condolences and expressions of shock were shared on Facebook walls and status updates, showing how important the synthetic reality of Walker (whom most of these “fans” had not known outside a pirated DVD) is to our folks. Newspapers, however, were not even remotely interested in questioning the pre-determined “play script” that seemed to unfold at the hands of the Police media spokesperson regarding the killing of four suspects. The myth of “suspects opening fire on the Police while being in custody”, or of “jumping into lakes and rivers” while being handcuffed are widely known as extremely poor scripts worded to cover extra-judicial killings. In fact, many suspects under Police custody have died such deaths over the past two decades or so; such cases being more prominent in the past five years.
Chulananda Samaranayake’s poem “පාතාලයා අම්මාට ලියූ ලියමන” reads as a note sent to a mother by a youth taken into custody by the Police. The poem resonates the context of a notorious case of Police brutality in Lunawa, Moratuwa in 2010, but the “Underworlder” (පාතාලයා) of the poem tells the mother not to fret, but to come to the seashore the next morning to collect his dead body which would inevitably be there. He says that the Police has abused him by “splitting his ears”, “beating his soles” and by wringing his fingers backwards over S-lon tubes. His genitals, he states, were put in a opened drawer and the drawer was closed on them: which is a notorious form of Police torture. The youth’s signature is taken on an empty sheet. Samaranayake captures in a few effective words the larger picture of Police-brutality against suspects taken into custody. As Basil Fernando in his newly published Narrative of Justice In Sri Lanka highlights, it is a non-infrequent corrupt practice among the Police to false-charge persons and make “suspects” out of them. What Basil Fernando records is, in fact, a widely known, widely accepted fact.
Samaranayake’s poem ends as follows:
“කන් දෙකම පලාලා
යටි පතුල් හොදටම තලලා
අත්සනුත් ගත්තා හිස්ම හිස් කොලේකට
දමා එස්ලෝන් බට
නවනකොට ඇගිලි නොපටට
උහුලාන ඉන්නෙ කොහොමද…
… ඒත් හෙට පත්තරවල
ලොකු ලොකු කතා නම් යයි
ඒත් කනකට ගන්නෙපා
ආපහු එන්න ඉඩ නැති පාරක
ආයුධ තියෙන තැන් පෙන්නන්න
නුඹේ පුතු අරන් යන්නයි ලෑස්තිය
දැන් ඉතින් එහේ මෙහේ දුවන්නෙපා
හෙට උදේ නොවරදවාම වැල්ලට එන්න
මං නුඹේ දයාබර පුතු — පාතාලයා”.
The deaths of the four suspects of the Kamburupitiya murders — according to some media — are welcomed by people who have apparently lighted crackers when the news was first broken. If this was indeed the case, it is unfortunate. However, irrespective of the people’s personal feelings the law enforcement process has to be regular and uncorrupt. In the present case, not only is the law enforcement without a “process”, but it is suspect and without responsibility. The law, so to exhaust the cliche, has been taken into the hands of the Police and STF and it seems to have been done with the patronage of higher chairs.
A suspect — until proven guilty remains a “suspect”. A “suspect”, when in Police custody, has to be protected and neutrally treated by the custodian — the Police. In this case, the victim of the initial murder is a member of the Kamburupitiya Police and the Police investigations, therefore, take a “special path” as what the Police is now set to investigate is the murder of one of their “clique”. The deaths of the four suspects — if they were natural deaths — is “natural justice” in the eyes of the Kamburupitiya Polce, which puts paid for their brutally killed colleague. But, in our eyes there is something largely unnatural about that justice.
The ignorant and the under-civilized argue that the “suspects” would inevitably be released or the case will be “forced” to be dropped through some bigwig involvement and therefore the killing of the “suspects” is commendable. The “Dinamina” in fact had openly applauded the STF in the killing of the chief suspect Chinthaka. However, this is mere speculation and if at all the System should be cleansed and made fool proof than gun down the “suspects”. Even the worst killer has a right to life and the purpose of a court process is to determine how a perceived “danger to society” can be managed and sentenced. The taking of a killer’s life is not to be justified because a killing is always circumstantial. But, that is after a conviction. Here, where the Police goes berserk even a court process has not been established, which is a gross assault on the due process.
A Paul Walker on the cinema screen will be replaced by another fantasy that can titillate the Sri Lankan cinema consumer. But, a daily deteriorating constitutional frame can only corrugate society and the lives of the larger segment of our Sri Lanka: the de facto vassalage of an arrogant regime.