Reviving Justice | Daily News

Reviving Justice

Hirunika Premachandra and Duminda Silva

“Deceit for personal gain is one of history’s most recurring crimes. Man’s first step towards change would be thinking, counter-arguing, re-thinking, twisting, straightening, perfecting, then believing every original idea he intends to make public before making it public. There is always an angle from which an absolute truth may appear askew just as there is always a personal emotion, or a personal agenda, which alienates the ultimate good of mankind.”

- Criss Jami, Killosophy

In a major development, the Police will exhume the remains of former Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, on September 27, following an order by the Mount Lavinia Magistrate’s Court.

The order was issued after the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) informed the Mount Lavinia Magistrate that the postmortem inquiry into the former Editor’s death was suspicious.

After the exhumation, the CID will conduct tests to ascertain whether the findings of the JMO report tally with Wickrematunge’s remains. It was widely known that the authorities under the previous regime attributed Wickrematunge’s death to gunshot wounds. On the contrary, there was no exit wound on the journalist’s head nor was there any spent cartridges at the place where he was killed. This raised serious doubts about the cause of his death.

According to highly placed Police sources, the experts will conduct a further autopsy to ascertain the cause of death, following the exhumation. It was rumoured that the journalist had been killed by piercing to his head with a sharp weapon and that no firearm had been used in the process.

The same suspicions were raised when the Police re-commenced inquiries into the killing of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, February, last year, after a new government came to power. There were problems relating to the initial post mortem inquiry carried out by former Colombo Chief JMO Ananda Samarasekera. After the CID made submissions to the Colombo Additional Magistrate, permission was granted to exhume the rugby player’s body. The investigations carried out after the exhumation of Thajudeen’s body pointed out discrepancies in the previous post-mortem inquiry. Some assume that the exhumation of Wickrematunge’s body will produce the same divergent result, drawing parallels between the cases of Thajudeen and Wickrematunge.

Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra

Meanwhile, the investigation into the journalist’s death has plunged a few top-brass Police officers into hot water. They are currently under investigation for attempting to cover up evidence with regard to Wickrematunge’s murder. It all began when information about his notebook surfaced, last year, during the initial phase of the inquiry.

On the day Wickrematunge was killed, he was followed by a group of unidentified people on motorbikes. It was reported that the journalist, when he realized that he was being followed in a suspicious manner, called some of his friends to inform them about the threat to his life. Among them was a senior official of the UNP who currently holds a ministerial portfolio. He had instructed Wickrematunge to write down the numbers of the motorbikes coming after him. While driving, Wickrematunge had opened his notebook and scribbled the numbers of the motorbikes with his left hand. Immediately after the journalist was killed, the notebook was found in his vehicle and it was taken into Police custody.

Wickrematunge’s notebook, without doubt, is a vital piece of evidence with regard to the investigation into his murder. It was later learnt that the OIC of the Mount Lavinia Police kept the notebook initially and he then handed it over to his superior officers. The CID also found out that the notebook had come to former IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne, who was also the Police Media Spokesman at one point.

After sometime, Wickrematunge’s notebook, which contained this highly important evidence relating to his murder, disappeared in a mysterious manner. After this information surfaced last year, the CID questioned the former IGP over the missing notebook. In addition, Prasanna Nananayakkara, a Senior DIG at the time of the murder and former Mount Lavinia SSP Hemantha Adikari were also grilled by the CID. The CID team handling the investigation has still not recovered the notebook.

Informed Police sources told the Daily News that stern action would be taken against Police officers who covered up evidence relating to the murder. It is an indication that senior Police officers responsible for the safety of the journalist’s notebook will soon run into trouble. Covering up evidence relating to a murder was the same charge leveled against former Senior DIG Anura Senanayake who is now in remand in connection with former rugby player Wasim Thajudeen’s murder.

Army officer Premananda Udalagama is already in CID custody for Wickrematunge’s murder. The CID suspects that Udalagama was a member of the group that killed the former Sunday Leader Editor. The investigators are currently on a mission to arrest other suspects involved in the murder. They are of the belief that all the suspects, involved in the attack, are members of the military, who worked closely with the top-brass members of the previous regime.

In another important development, former Editor-in-Chief of the Rivira newspaper, Upali Tennakoon, who was assaulted two weeks after Wickrematunge’s murder, also identified Udalagama as a member of the group that assaulted him. Tennakooon’s wife, who was also present at the scene, separately identified the Army officer, affirming the CID’s suspicion. In a separate development, Wickrematunga’s driver had also identified Udalagama, in an identification parade, a few weeks ago.

“This buttresses the claim that the same ‘squad’ had been used to launch lethal attacks on journalists, under the previous administration. But, it is important to identify the party that gave orders to attack the journalists. It is obvious that none of the journalists who came under attack had personal problems with the members of the military. The suspects were merely carrying out orders issued by higher authorities. The investigation should now move in that direction,” an informed government source told the Daily News.

He also added that the suspicion over Wickrematunga’s murder has now been directed at an influential figure, who held a key position in the country’s defence apparatus, under the previous regime. “But, arrests cannot be made based on mere suspicions. There has to be substantial evidence to corroborate them,” he added.

“The government should have the political will to bring the culprits to book, irrespective of their current positions. Some of them may have switched allegiance to get ‘immunity’. It is up to the government to act in a transparent manner and facilitate the law enforcement process. Any political interference at this juncture, will reflect badly on the government,” he also said.

Duminda Silva

In a landmark verdict, the Colombo High Court imposed the death penalty on former parliamentarian Duminda Silva, on Thursday, in connection with the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. Premachandra, at the time of murder, was an advisor to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on trade union affairs.

Lasantha Wickrematunge

Duminda Silva, a close ally of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at one point, was the monitoring MP of the Defence and Urban Development Ministry, under the previous administration. Therefore, many assumed that Thursday’s judgment would not be ‘too harsh’ on the former parliamentarian given the political power wielded by him and his family. Despite this popular belief, the High Court trial at bar found Duminda Silva and his four allies guilty of 17 charges relating to the murder of Premachandra.

The accused were charged on 17 counts including committing and conspiring to commit murder of four individual, inflicting gunshot injuries, unlawful assembly and criminal intimidation on or around October 8, 2011. The accused had been charged under section 296, 140, 146, 147, 486 and 300 of the Penal Code. They were also charged under the Firearms Act. The verdict was divided two-to-one with judges Pathmini N. Ranawaka and M.C.B.S. Moreis finding five accused guilty for 10 charges including committing and conspiring to commit the murders of the four people. However, Justice Shiran Gunaratne, President of Colombo High Court Trial at bar, found the 13th accused, Duminda Silva, not guilty of all seventeen charges.

However, when the historic verdict was delivered on Thursday afternoon, it caused ripples across the country’s political circles. The judgment made it clear that everyone was equal before the court of law and gone are the days when politicians had ‘immunity’ before judiciary, when it came to criminal cases.

Following the verdict, however, Hirunika Premachandra, the slain politician’s daughter, has now launched a fresh war against Duminda Silva saying the latter misled the judiciary by giving false medical reports on his injuries.

Duminda Silva was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital, in October 2011, following the shootout in which Premachandra was killed. Hospital authorities, at that point, said the parliamentarian’s condition was critical as there were gunshot wounds to his head. After initial surgeries in Colombo, Silva was taken to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore for further treatment.

Miraculous recovery

Silva recovered miraculously in Singapore and returned to the country. He was later arrested by the Police while in a private hospital and released on bail. After being granted bail, Silva, whose brain was ‘severely damaged’ following gunshot wounds, walked out of the hospital, smiling.

After his release, Silva led a perfectly normal life and he even attended parliamentary sessions. He also applied to contest the last parliamentary election on the UPFA ticket, but the party rejected his nominations. Silva, however, remained an ally of the former President who led the campaign of the party at the last Parliamentary election.

With the aim of questioning Silva’s medical reports, Hirunika Premachandra, on Sunday, published a picture of her father, which was taken shortly after the incident. Premachandra was shot in the head and the photograph clearly showed the cavity created by the gunshot.

“Every time I see this picture I don’t think it’s real, because I only remember his handsome face with a smile on. For the first time in my life I am posting this picture, not for your sympathy but for you to understand this is how a shot in the head’ looks like. Its impossible to live even a second after a shot like this... something to think about,” the Parliamentarian posted, while publishing the photo. Her remark was directed at former parliamentarian Silva who also claimed that he was shot in the head by Premachandra’s supporters. Her post went viral on social media platforms over the weekend and many websites reproduced the photograph.

By making the statement, Premachandra has requested authorities to investigate into the conduct of Dr. Maheshi Wijeratne, a Consultant Neurologist, who treated Duminda Silva, after the incident. The Premachandra family has indicated that they will proceed with their battle against the Silva and his allies.

Upon conviction, the former Parliamentarian was first held at the C3 ward of the Welikada prison. However, he was later transferred to the B3 ward. Three others who were convicted for Premachandra’s murder were also kept at the C3 ward.

As a precautionary measure, prison authorities transferred Chaminda Ravi Jayanath, who was also convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Premachandra, to the Pallekelle prisons, under tight security. Jayanath alias ‘Dematagoda Chaminda’ is known to be a notorious gangster and the prison authorities made the move to avert any incident in the prison premises. A man with strong political links, his name has been mentioned in connection with many criminal activities, in the recent past.

However, Samantha Kumara alias ‘Wele Suda’, a notorious drug lord whose name had been linked with Duminda Silva previously, is also held at the Welikada prison. Commenting on the matter, a senior Prison officer told the Daily News that Silva, a prisoner on a death row, is kept in a solitary cell. Visitors are allowed to see him only once a week, for 30 minutes, and prison officers closely watch his movements.

Authorities of the Welikada prison also received a request from the former parliamentarian to have access to home-cooked food. Those who are in remand custody usually enjoy this facility. In response to Silva’s request, the authorities said they were not in a position to allow such a facility to the former parliamentarian.

It was reported that Duminda Silva, on Friday, played cricket with other prisoners on death row, during the 20-minute period allocated for them for physical exercise. Prison sources also added that the former parliamentarian was in good mental and physical health.

“Even if he files an appeal, he will have to remain in prison. Usually, those who are convicted for murder are kept in solitary cells. The prison department did not make any exceptions with the former parliamentarian,” a highly placed source at the Department of Prisons told our sister paper, the Sunday Observer, on Saturday.

It is now learnt that a group of close associates of Silva have explored the possibility of transferring him to the Merchant Ward at the Colombo National Hospital. The Merchant Ward is widely popular among politicians serving prison terms and it looks like Duminda Silva too, will move in the same direction, in the coming days. However, it is questionable as to whether a prisoner on a death row can be transferred to the Merchant Ward, bypassing the Prison Hospital. Perhaps that is one reason why Hirunika Premachandra has fast tracked her ‘battle’ against Silva’s medical reports. 


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