Watch The Watchman

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2018-01-14

The mysterious death of a teenager while in custody in the Pettah Police Station and who had been arrested on Thursday (11 January) for allegedly possessing cannabis (ganja), may be a pointer to the need of keeping watch over the watchman.

The death is allegedly due to suicide.

However, a post-mortem examination of the deceased was said to have had been performed. JMO Colombo was not immediately contactable to find the reasons for the death.

Nevertheless, the lead story of this newspaper in its yesterday's edition pointed out the need for an 'independent' body to probe deaths in custody, including like in the case of the aforesaid incident, where the suspect had died while in Police custody.

It's not that the JMO is not independent.
Nonetheless, after certain seeming 'murders' that took place during the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, especially that of former Thomian and Sri Lanka ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen in 2012 and the alleged doctoring of that death to make it look like an accident, have cast doubts in regard to the independence of the JMO's Office.

It's not that Sri Lanka didn't have independent JMOs who refused to bow down or bend due to political pressure. One such example was the JMO, Dr. L.B.L. de Alwis, who undertook the post-mortem examination of renegade UNP Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, killed by an LTTE gunman while addressing a political rally on 23 April 1993.

Once the SLFP/PA Leader Chandrika Kumaratunga's Government was elected to power the following year 1994, she appointed a commission to inquire into Athulathmudali's death as she and her Government were allegedly hell bent in trying to prove that the assassination was carried out by the UNP headed by President Ranasinghe Premadasa who had been in power at that time.

The Athulathmudali Commission was one of four commissions appointed by Kumaratunga in 1995, a year after she was elected to power in 1994, in her attempts to nail the UNP, the country's single biggest political party.

The findings of all of those commissions, however, came to nought, with the Supreme Court, in particular with regard to the findings of the Athulathmudali Commission, throwing its recommendations/judgments overboard.

Her chief target by appointing these commissions was to send the UNP, hers and her party the SLFP's arch rival, into the dustbins of history.

Kumaratunga wanted to enact the drama, albeit in a perverted manner, what her bête noire, the way then UNP leader, J.R. Jayewardene did to her mother, Sirima Bandaranaike in 1978.

After Jayewardene was elected to power in 1977, defeating the then SLFP leader Bandaranaike at the polls, he appointed a Presidential Commission in 1978 to probe into Bandaranaike's activities in the seven years she was in power from 1970 to 1977.
After two years of sittings, the commission found Bandaranaike guilty of misuse and abuse of power in 1980. Parliament, then by a five sixths majority, voted that she be stripped of her civic rights, which recommendations were carried out.

Jayewardene however restored her civic rights in January 1986.

Meanwhile, a Presidential Commission, headed by one of Kumaratunga's relatives, Justice Tissa Dias Bandaranayake who headed two of those politically charged commissions, the other being the Kobbekaduwa Commission, another failed attempt to make General Denzil Kobbekaduwa's death by an LTTE landmine in Ariyali, Jaffna in August 1992 to be also a UNP killing, pressured the JMO, de Alwis, to change his evidence to appear that Athulathmudali was not killed by an LTTE assassin as previous evidence, supported by him had proved. Nonetheless, de Alwis, despite pressure, refused to change his testimony.

But men of de Alwis' character and calibre are rare. It was but a matter of time before the JMO's Office became a pawn of politicos after the opening shots were fired by the Kumaratunga Government of 1994.

The need, therefore, is to make the JMO's Office, similar to the recently appointed permanent commissions, such as the Police Commission which looks into the welfare of policemen both from an administrative and political perspective, independent.

This would ensure that the rights of the aggrieved parties, whose loved ones have met with mysterious deaths, while in official custody, police or otherwise, know as to what really caused their deaths.

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