Free Trade Zone workers protest the killing of a Catholic co-worker during violent clashes with police in May
Religious and civil leaders have expressed concern over what they characterize as a rise in lawlessness and plummeting faith in the ability of authorities to administer justice.
The death of a young man last week while in police custody sparked mob violence, as about a thousand people pelted the police station where the young man died with stones before setting it ablaze.
Five police officers including the head of the crime unit of the burned police station were arrested on suspicion of the murder of the young man, identified as GA Gayan Rasanga, a trishaw driver.
A statement issued by police following the death initially claimed that the death was caused by a fall from a police jeep while Rasanga was helping police track down stolen goods.
However, police later withdrew the claim and appointed the Criminal Investigation Department to look into the incident after the arrests of the five officers.
Other criminal suspects have died in custody in recent months.
Mahinda Balasuirya, former inspector general of police, tendered his resignation last month after a worker at the Free Trade Zone was shot and killed by police during a protest.
In August, an officer and three constables from a police station in Moratuwa, 15 km south of Colombo, were sentenced to death after two youths died in custody in 2009.
Venerable Brahmanawatte Sivali Nayaka Thero, deputy secretary of the Congress of Religions, said the law should protect all people.
“Irrespective of poor or rich, it should be fair to all. If somebody implements the law in a disastrous manner, people lose their confidence in law and order,” he said.
“Police should examine complaints without any favors to the complainant or accused, and allow the courts to handle the rest.”
Only tragedy results from people or police taking the law into their own hands, he added, citing the death yesterday of a police officer killed by a sword as he sought to investigate a criminal complaint.
Basil Fernando, director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), said the group has documented innumerable cases of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and extrajudicial killings at the hands of police in the last few years.
“The prevention of crime is one of the sacred and paramount duties of any civilized state,” he said.
He added that the AHRC has released a recent report that documents 323 cases of torture and ill treatment of suspects by Sri Lankan police between 1988 and 2011.
Father Sarath iddamalgoda, convener of the Christian Solidarity Movement, said the pattern of lawlessness derives from positions of authority.
“Most of the public protect law and order, but people in power break the law, especially politicians who are corrupt and fraudulent,” he said.
NK Illangakoon, inspector general of police, said yesterday that police must work more closely and engage with the general public in order to win their respect.
Report highlights cases of torture