Police arrests and their impact | Daily News


Police arrests and their impact

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's stand that arrests made by the police should be a last resort after the exhaustion of all other avenues to the contrary no doubt would strike a receptive chord with those who value liberty, fundamental rights and freedoms.

In a directive to Acting IGP, Senior DIG C. D. Wickramaratne, the President observed that willy-nilly arrests of persons while harming their reputations and standing in society could also have other deleterious consequences that impact on their lives. Hence arrests should be done only when absolutely necessary as a last resort upon a decision taken with utmost care and in strict compliance with the law.

President Rajapaksa no doubt had in mind the long term implications of an arrest on an individual if such an arrest was flawed and made without basis. A faulty arrest could have drastic consequences for the entire lifetime of the victim. Not just the individual concerned but the consequences would cast a shadow on even the family members of the person arrested. This is the most widely used argument against the death sentence, for it cannot be undone afterwards.

Recently there was a case of a man in Hingurakoda who was arrested for having a “gun” in his possession, which turned out to be a toy pistol given by his brother. But by the time he was cleared of all charges, he had spent nearly one year in prison and both he and his brother had been branded as underworld characters by the villagers, who did not know the actual facts of the case. Moreover, both of them lost their jobs as their employers believed this rumour.

Indeed, an arrest could affect a person’s livelihood by shutting the door for employment for the individual and even family members. After all, no employer would have a person with a police record or conviction under his or her service, however flawed such a record may be. It could also impinge on the lives of the children of an individual wrongly arrested, who are likely to be given a wide berth in their schools and blacklisted from all activities. In the case of youth it could have a drastic effect on their entire future with dire psychological implications.

One recalls the arrest of a youth sometime ago, who, it was alleged, had videos of a girl who was later found killed after being raped, an episode which dominated media headlines for days. Subsequently it was found that the youth was not at fault and he was freed by the police. But the damage had already been done. The picture of the youth had been freely exposed in the print and electronic media by that time. It is anybody's guess what trauma this youth must be still undergoing by his wrongful arrest and public exposure.

On the side of the police there can be arguments that arrests have to be made based on suspicion. It is the normal practice of the police to arrest persons with a police record for robbery or illicit liquor distillation etc. based on suspicion, even when such persons may be innocent this time around. Police work no doubt could be hampered if this directive were to have blanket cover. Hence, much discretion needs to be exercised on the part of the police in this regard. There may be offenders for various felonies who may want to turn a new leaf in their lives and their continued arrest on suspicion may well act to the detriment of their reformation process.

There is another kind of arrest that has turned out to be pure spectacle. We are of course referring to the arrests of politicians. Unlike the aforementioned variety, this breed of offenders takes delight in their arrests. Why not? They are arrested in the full glare of television cameras and even deign to hug the law officers who arrest them and take selfies with them. They also disport themselves as heroes raising their manacled wrists when marched towards the prison bus.

No sooner they are out of the glare of the TV lights they duly get themselves admitted to hospital. (It goes without saying that ordinary people cannot take this route when arrested for whatever offence). Far from harming their reputations they come out as returning heroes having made ample political capital out of their arrests. Both suspects in the Nalanda Ellawela murder came on top in their preference vote while still being in remand. Hence, it is moot if arresting politicians will have any negative impact on their reputations or social standing. On the contrary they often set them on the road to a successful political career. In fact, it would be much better if MPs and other politicians wanted for various offences can be arrested away from the glare of the television cameras so that they cannot act like “heroes”. There cannot also be one set of legal rules for politicos and another for ordinary people. Both are equal before the law and the Police must act in a manner that reinforces this fundamental fact.

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