Urgent Appeals File: Tissa Kumara–Incomprehensible cruelty & systemic neglect in Sri Lanka

Asian Human Rights Commission

 

Footnote: This article is the compilation of a number of appeals that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has made on the case of Tissa Kumara. See further: SRI LANKA: Severely injured torture victim needs urgent medical treatment (UA-18-2004, 13 February 2004); SRI LANKA: Torture victim acquires tuberculosis by the direct action of the police (UP-21-2004, 30 April 2004); SRI LANKA: A call for the immediate release of the Sri Lankan citizen whose mouth the police got a TB patient to spit into resulting in that citizen acquiring Tuberculosis (AHRC-PL-36-2004, 3 May 2004); SRI LANKA: Tuberculosis patient kept in solitary cell due to fabricated charges by police (UP-22-2004, 3 May 2004); SRI LANKA: Police pressure torture victim to withdraw case by threatening his family (UP-28-2004, 24 June 2004); Lack of fax machines in courts causes delay in justice in Sri Lanka (AHRC-PL-48-2004, 28 June 2004). All documents are available on the AHRC website (www.ahrchk.net). The case was also included among those in the second special report on torture by the police in Sri Lanka, ‘Endemic torture and the collapse of policing in Sri Lanka’, published in article 2 (vol. 3, no. 1, February 2004). The sheer brutality of the torture has also brought domestic and international media attention.

The interview with P Rajitha, wife of Tissa Kumara, extracts of which appear in this article, was conducted and translated by Shyamalie Puvimanasinghe, an attorney-at-law and independent researcher.

This is the second article in the new ‘Urgent Appeals File’ series in article 2, which raises in detail recent Urgent Appeal cases taken up by the Asian Human Rights Commission. The case of Mousumi Ari in West Bengal, India (UA-33-2004), the subject of the first Urgent Appeals File (article 2, vol. 3, no. 2, April 2004), has recently been published in a Bengali-language book by Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha. Despite concerted efforts, however, the criminal government officials responsible for covering up her murder are yet to be held to account for their actions.

———————————————

Koralaliyanage Palitha Tissa Kumara, a prominent 31-year-old artisan and father of two took leave from his work restoring two historic houses on 2 February 2004 and returned to his home at Halwala, Matugama, the same night.

About 8:30am the next day, February 3, a police jeep and Pajero arrived at Tissa Kumara’s house. There were four officers in the jeep and six officers in the Pajero. Sub Inspector (SI) Silva and the driver got out of the Pajero. P Rajitha, his wife, describes what happened next.

One of them said to me, “Call Tissa Kumara out, we want him to make a sign for us.” Therefore, I called for my husband, whom I refer to as Palitha. When Palitha came out SI Silva assaulted and kicked him right before my eyes. SI Silva also shouted at him in obscene language. Then the police pushed my husband into the back of the police jeep and threw his shirt onto him. When I queried why my husband was being arrested, I was also scolded in obscene language. The police jeep left with Palitha inside.

The police then went to the house of Galathara Don Shantha at Galathra junction. Mr Galathara was also brought out of his house, and put in the jeep. Several other young people were picked up on the way back to Welipenna police station.

After arriving at the police station, the police took Tissa Kumara to SI Silva’s room, and he was told to sit on the floor. The other persons were taken to the cells. A little later, Galathara was brought in and made to sit opposite him. Then SI Silva took a cricket post and started hitting Tissa Kumara repeatedly, between the shoulders. While hitting him, he told Galathara, “Look—this is how the others will also be treated.” He pulled up Tissa Kumara and kept hitting him hard all over his body. P Rajitha recalls what her husband told her later had been done to him:

There were several others who had also been arrested along with my husband on suspicion of robbing a boutique nearby. However the others had confessed to their involvement, so they had not incurred the wrath of the police. Palitha refused to confess, as he was not involved. One Sarath had been apprehended on suspicion and had falsely implicated Palitha as revenge [thinking that Tissa Kumara was somehow to blame for his arrest].

My husband told me that SI Silva severely assaulted him, demanding information and shouting, “Give me the bombs, give me the weapons and tell about the robbery.” He had been beaten all over his body, especially over the chest and heart. While hitting Palitha on the heart SI Silva had remarked, “I am going to kill you.” After each beating, Palitha had also been dragged and soaked with cold water. He also said that SI Silva made Sarath, who was a co-suspect in the case for which Palitha was arrested, and who had been suffering from tuberculosis, spit into my husband’s mouth, saying, “You too will be dead within two months from today due to TB.”

After the spitting incident, another policeman had given Palitha some water with which to rinse his mouth. This same policeman had taken pity on him and given him a mattress to sleep on. However SI Silva had subsequently arrived and had taken the mattress away, thus forcing my husband to spend the night on the floor.

The beating went on for possibly two hours, and in that time Tissa Kumara recalls being hit about 80 times, on all parts of his body, soaking his clothes with blood. The blows were often so forceful and wild that the officer also hit and smashed an electric bulb on the ceiling. Throughout this time, Galathara was watching in terror. Tissa Kumara noticed that he had involuntarily urinated on seeing the manner in which he was beaten up. After this, even other officers became concerned at the relentless beating and savagery of the attack. Another came in and said to SI Silva, “Are you trying to kill this man? Stop this hitting.” However, he did not stop. Then the officer left and came back with about eight other officers, and one of them literally had to pull the cricket post out of SI Silva’s hands. It was after this that SI Silva brought Sarath and forced him to spit into Tissa Kumara’s mouth, the victim all the while pleading for him not to do this, saying that he would catch the disease and spread it to his wife and children, but to not avail. P Rajitha relates how meanwhile she had been desperately trying to intervene:

I, together with my two children and my mother, rushed to the Welipenna police station. We saw Palitha inside the station. He said that he had been assaulted but that he did not know the reason for his arrest. Then a policeman handcuffed him and took him inside the police station. Thereafter I left [with the youngest infant] to meet Palitha’s employer in Aluthgama. I wanted to tell him of the terrible plight that has befallen Palitha and ask him to help us.

My mother stayed in the police station with my five-year-old son. When I returned in the evening from Aluthgama, my mother told me that she had heard my husband scream in agony from within the police station. After I returned from Aluthgama, I stayed at the police station till evening. The police wanted me to bring my husband a bread roll, some plantains, and a Ginger Beer. I obliged and handed these items over to a policeman. I stayed there till 7pm and then having failed to see my husband, returned home.

Tissa Kumara was first kept in the cell for about three days. In that time he often vomited, and could not eat or drink. He could not even urinate in the corner hole, despite attempts by Galathara, who was locked in the same cell, to help him. Each time he tried to stand up, severe pain in his right ear caused dizziness and disorientation. On the third day SI Silva came and told him to get up, raise his arms and bend down. He found it very difficult, and so the officer punched him in the chest about 13 times, and once in the face. While punching him he said, pointing, “This is where your heart is and I am hitting so that you will die in two months.” On another occasion SI Silva came and handcuffed Tissa Kumara to a bar of the cell door, and then pulled the door open and shut, injuring his wrist. During this time, P Rajitha continuously sought out ways to meet with her husband:

On the two days following his arrest, I visited the Welipenna police station in the morning but was chased away by the police. However the food I took for my husband was accepted. My brother too took food for Palitha, which was also accepted by the police. But none of us were allowed to see Palitha.

On February 5, in desperation, I visited the office of the ASP [Assistant Superintendent of Police] in Kalutara. The ASP who is in charge of the Welipenna police was not present at the time but I told my problem to another ASP. This gentleman gave me a ‘chit’ to be presented to the Welipenna OIC [Officer in Charge]. Thereafter, I arrived at Welipenna police station and met with the station OIC. The OIC pointed to the accused and told me, “there he is”, and I saw my husband lying on the ground and shackled to a bar of a police cell. I think that the OIC was not present at the police station at the time my husband was arrested. In fact the OIC had only come on February 5, the day I met with him.

On February 5, some officers took Tissa Kumara to Itthapana District Hospital. The doctor who examined him refused to admit him because his injuries were too serious. The police brought him back to the station and then again took him to the hospital, to be examined by another doctor, who also said he could not be admitted there. After that the police took Tissa Kumara to the Wetthewa Government Hospital, where he was likewise refused admission. But while there, a lawyer came and met him and talked to the police officers, after which he followed them back to the station. The lawyer demanded the police bring Tissa Kumara before a magistrate, and waited for some time at the station. However, eventually he came to the cell and told Tissa Kumara that it did not seem that the police would bring him before a magistrate and because of other commitments he had to leave.

That night SI Silva came back to the cell and took a grenade out of its packing. Then he pulled Tissa Kumara’s hand through the bars and took his thumbprint with warm ceiling wax, which he in turn he planted on the grenade. He took down Tissa Kumara’s personal details and came back with a statement that he forced him to sign, without explaining anything of the contents. He also fingerprinted him.

In the morning of February 6 Tissa Kumara was again taken to Wetthawa Government Hospital, but he received no treatment and was kept handcuffed while the police went to get a signature on some documents from one person there. Then the officers brought him back to the police station. At about 5:30pm he was taken to an office in the Magistrates Court of Matugama, where he was produced with several others before an acting magistrate. Tissa Kumara told the acting magistrate that he was severely assaulted and that his thumbprint had been planted on a grenade, and asked for medical treatment. A lawyer appearing on his behalf requested that he be examined by a Judicial Medical Officer (JMO), which the acting magistrate duly recorded. After the hearing, Tissa Kumara was taken to Kalutara Remand Prison and admitted to the prison hospital. P Rajitha recalls how the police manipulated the court proceedings as follows:

On February 6, I together with my two children, my parents, my three brothers and some friends went to the Magistrates Court of Matugama in the hope that Palitha would be brought to court that day. Then I saw the police van going past the court premises. I later found out that the police had been taking my husband to Wetthawa hospital. I do not know what happened at the hospital, but thereafter, my husband had been taken back to the police station. My husband also told me that the police had taken him to two hospitals, but both these hospitals had refused to admit him, as his injuries were so serious.

My family had also retained the services of a lawyer to appear on behalf of my husband and inform the court of the injuries caused to him at the hands of SI Silva. This lawyer had made several calls to the police inquiring as to what time Palitha would be brought to court, since he had to attend to some other business in the evening. My family and I waited patiently. Finally Palitha was brought to court only around 5pm, by which time the lawyer had left. The police rushed my husband into court, covered by a cloth. They chased us away, and prevented us from entering the court. Thereafter, Palitha was taken away by the police. I was not aware of what happened in court. I only know that my husband was further detained.

On February 10 Tissa Kumara was again brought before a magistrate, and on February 12 he was taken to a JMO at the General Hospital of Colombo. Several doctors examined and noted his injuries, took X-rays and photographs. The JMO instructed that he be brought for further examinations.

The police filed two fabricated cases against Tissa Kumara, for possession of a grenade and for robbery. Although he complained to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC) and National Police Commission (NPC), he did not obtain any immediate relief; instead, he was remanded at Kalutatra Remand Prison, where he received no treatment. Throughout this time his wife visited him regularly, and describes his condition then as follows:

He was treated as some kind of a ‘special’ remand detainee, segregated from the rest. During his period of remand, he had been taken to the Colombo National Hospital for an X-ray and several medical tests. He had also been operated on for a boil on his buttocks, at the prison hospital. This boil was a result of his assault at the Welipenna police station. I continued to give him Panadol and Siddhalepa [popular local ointment for aches and pains] for his ailments every time I visited the remand prison. I also did this while he was at the police station.

When I visited him on about April 24 he complained of chest pain and of coughing up blood. He also gave me a prescription for certain medicines. He had received the prescription from the prison hospital. The prison hospital had also told Palitha that he might be suffering from tuberculosis when he reported to them that he had been coughing up blood.

I purchased these medicines from a private clinic and sent them to my husband on April 27. On April 29, I met Palitha after he had been taken to the Nagoda hospital, where again he had been treated. He told me that two blood samples and his phlegm had also been taken to be tested at the Nagoda hospital. I visited him again on May 3 but his condition had not changed. I have not yet been able to know the results of these tests.

My husband also told me that he had been warded at the prison hospital ever since he started coughing blood with his saliva and complained of chest pains. Since then, he has been confined to a secluded room [formerly reserved for chickenpox patients] and for all intents and purposes, kept in isolation. Even his food is passed to him from under the door.

The test at Nagoda General Hospital confirmed that Tissa Kumara has in fact contracted tuberculosis.

Immediately upon hearing of the diagnosis, Basil Fernando, Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, wrote two letters to Ranjith Abeysuriya PC, Chairman of the NPC, urging him to take action without delay to secure the release of Tissa Kumara from remand custody. The letters called on the Chairman to verify the facts swiftly if needed, and see to the release of Tissa Kumara so he might get immediate medical treatment in order to arrest the development of the disease. The letters also pointed out that it was detention on fabricated charges that had prevented the patient from getting the treatment he required, even when many organisations and individuals were willing to offer assistance. Therefore, the letters stated, the Chairman should secure from the Inspector General of Police an explanation as to the incident itself. It was also necessary to explain how the victim could be kept in custody for so long after this horrendous act of torture had already been widely publicised, and the Chairman himself informed of the case by the AHRC. In the first letter, of April 30, Basil Fernando wrote that

The AHRC wishes to record its utter dissatisfaction into the manner in which your Commission has dealt with the numerous cases of torture that we have brought to your notice. Had you taken a sufficiently serious approach to the issue of torture incidents such as the one suffered by Koralaliyanage Palitha Tissa Kumara could have been prevented. In this particular case we made our complaint to your Commission on 13 February 2004. We further reported this case in a special report entitled ‘Endemic torture and the collapse of policing in Sri Lanka’ at page 57-60 in our publication article 2 which was published in February and shared a copy with your Commission. Despite such complaints made by us and others, this despicable police officer, one SI Silva who did this most cruel act, is still on active duty as a police officer. Neither your Commission nor anybody else seems to care or have the courage and leadership to rid the police service of this sort of extreme cruelty and inhumanity. We are compelled to state that your Commission has failed to meet the expectations of the human rights community. Even at this late stage we urge you not to abdicate the constitutional and the moral responsibilities that have been placed on your Commission.

In the second letter, of May 3, he added the concerns of the AHRC for the family of the victim:

The cruelty perpetrated on K P Tissa Kumara has put his wife in a tremendously vulnerable position. She has seen her husband, an artisan of repute, with no criminal record of any sort, being brutally tortured, subjected to fabricated charges and kept in a remand prison. Despite her knowledge that the police got a TB patient to spit into her husband’s mouth she was not able to get medical care for him as he was in remand custody. The burden of supporting the family is also on her. Now she has learned that her husband has caught this deadly disease and is in no position to be of any help to him. She has urged us to do all we can to help her in this most difficult situation.

P Rajitha also comments on the intense physical and psychological suffering the family has experienced as a result of the torture inflicted on her husband:

I have two little sons. At the time of the arrest, the eldest was five years and the infant was nine months old. I am breastfeeding the little one. My husband was a talented artisan. He worked for an employer in Aluthgama as well as in several other places, including Galle and Matara. He usually worked away from home every other week, while during the intervening weeks he spent time at home.  The income he earned from his work was adequate to maintain our little family. I do not go to work and do not have an income of my own. I looked after my two children at home. After my husband’s arrest, I had to move in with my parents. My father sells betel leaves for a living, and with this meagre income he now supports my children and myself. Though I have three brothers and one sister, they are not in a position to help me financially.

When Palitha spoke with me on February 6, he showed our five-year-old son the injuries he received from the police beatings. He told our son, “Look son, this is what the police did to me.” After my eldest son saw his father’s injuries, he cried incessantly and began to limp. Over the next few days, his limp worsened and finally he was unable to walk. His crying too was uncontrollable. Thus I took the child to a private doctor, who said that there was an illness going around that affected children. Hence on February 8, I got scared and took my child to Nagoda hospital. There the child was admitted and kept under observation for two days. But when we told the hospital medical staff that the child’s father had been arrested a few days earlier, they told me that the most probable reason for the child’s symptoms was mental trauma. After two days they discharged the child from hospital. Now he appears to be all right. He seems to have got over the initial trauma and has come to terms with the absence of his father. However, his school attendance is disrupted every time he has to accompany me to visit his father.

My problems do not end there. My infant son had developed a hernia prior to my husband’s arrest. I had been asked to bring the child to hospital on February 16, most probably for a hernia operation. However, due to all these problems and my present state of mind, I did not do so. Then in March the child’s condition became worse and he started vomiting and crying. I then rushed him to hospital in a three-wheeler. The child was admitted and surgery was performed to remove the hernia on March 16. He was discharged from hospital after three days. The infant now needs further surgery for another physiological problem. But I am postponing attending to it and hope it can wait until all these problems are over.

The preliminary hearing of the fundamental rights petition in Tissa Kumara’s case was submitted to the Supreme Court was heard on May 10. On May 24, the state counsel, appearing for the Attorney General, said that he is satisfied that the allegation of torture is true, and that the Special Investigation Unit is conducting an inquiry to prosecute the perpetrator under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) Act, No. 22 of 1994. The case was heard by Chief Justice Sarath N Silva and Justices J A N de Silva and Nihal Jayasinghe, who gave leave to proceed. According to persons in the courtroom, the judges looked visibly shocked to learn the details of the case.

The SIU is reported to have obtained permission to record statements from all of the police officers attached to the Welipenna police station. However, to date of writing the alleged perpetrator, SI Silva, continues to work at the police station, despite the outrage of local and international human rights organisations, and constant strong communications to the concerned authorities.

 

At the time the third update to the initial Urgent Appeal was issued by the AHRC on June 24, Tissa Kumara was still in jail awaiting completion of formalities to be released on bail. When contacted regarding the delays, an officer of the Matugama Magistrate’s Court said that it could not carry out the bail order because the documents sent by the Court of Appeal granting the release contained typographical errors. This communication caused the AHRC to issue a press release on how unreasonable delays in justice are caused in Sri Lanka by the fact that many courts and government offices are without basic communication facilities, like fax machines. Basil Fernando commented that:

Tissa Kumara may still be remanded in prison for a few more days to wait for the correction of the errors as the communication and transfer of the papers takes some time. Had there been a fax machine in the magistrate’s court to receive the relevant information quickly, he would have been released and obtained proper medical treatment earlier.

Tissa Kumara has also been alternately bribed and threatened to drop the formal complaints he has made against SI Silva. On June 16, he had a visit from a ‘socially important person’ who carried a message from the police that he would receive 500,000 rupees (around US00) if he would withdraw the cases that have been filed based on his complaints. Meanwhile, in a separate incident, he received a message through a third party that his wife and child would be crushed to death by a vehicle if the complaints were not withdrawn.

The Matugama Magistrate’s Court finally released Tissa Kumara on bail on June 28, some five months after he was originally taken into custody. The AHRC has undertaken to pay for the medical expenses incurred for his treatment of tuberculosis. Meantime, Tissa Kumara has not been required to report to the police station where he was tortured, as is normally required in granting bail. He will be ordered to appear in the High Court on the charges against him once notified. The petition in the Supreme Court will proceed on September 6. In the meanwhile, steps are being taken by local organisations to protect him and his family from physical danger.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *