Thebuwana celebrates release of Police Sergeant | Sunday Observer

Thebuwana celebrates release of Police Sergeant

Reprimanded by the seniors !
Reprimanded by the seniors !

The towns of Matugama and Thebuwana was in a jubilant atmosphere on Tuesday (9) when the courts decided to release Police Sergeant Sanath Gunawardena on bail. As crowds gathered to greet him, people cheered and lit crackers to celebrate the release of the cop.

But, several days ago, the mood in the area was entirely different. On Sunday, residents of both towns gathered and held a protest, demanding his release, as others questioned if action is only taken promptly against lower-ranking policemen. They were quick to come to his defence claiming Gunawardena was an honest cop who had been severely wronged by his superiors. Today, Gunawardena has unexpectedly become an example signifying the pressures on those in lower ranks within the force by high ranking officers.

The situation that led to all the drama unfolded on October 3 when reports trickled in of a disgruntled policeman making threats to commit suicide, pacing up and down the Thebuwana town, brandishing a T56 firearm. As the Special Task Force (STF) and other Police reinforcements were called in to subdue the officer, it was later revealed that he had to take such a drastic step after a lorry seized by him for transporting sand allegedly without the necessary permits was later released by the OIC of the Thebuwana Police T. Arulananthan.

According to Gunawardena’s version, on September 29 during a special operation that was carried out, he along with another Constable and the driver had chanced upon a lorry transporting soil. On inspection, he had claimed it was revealed, the permit had expired the day before, while it was also discovered, the driver had no valid driving licence and had not noted or signed off the time he set out to transport the load as was stipulated in the permit regulations. Accordingly, the lorry could only transport three cubes of sand, and that too only from September 11 - 28 between the times, 6 pm and 6 am.

A lawyer representing the policeman, Udul Premaratne says, it was for these three wrongs that Gunawardena had seized the lorry taking it to the Thebuwana Police Station to initiate further action. However, though the permit only allowed sand to be transported on September 28, the owner of the lorry and a prominent sand transport businessman in the area, Wickramaratne Gunawardena had claimed the permit allows him to transport sand till 6 am the following day even showing a new letter from the Geological and Mines Bureau attesting to the fact. W Gunawardena is said to be the husband of a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Millaniya Pradeshiya Sabha member Nirmalee Gunawardena. Premaratne says, this letter itself is questionable as according to the permit, transporting sand should have ceased at 6 am on September 28, as per the date and time frame mentioned on the permit. But, accepting the letter from the Geological and Mines Bureau, the OIC had taken action to release the lorry. His action was also backed by the Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara during a press briefing, claiming that the lorry had the necessary permit to engage in its activities.

When a friend carried the news to Sergeant Gunawardena, he decided he had had enough. Demanding back the lorry taken into custody by him, Gunawardena had not only threatened to shoot those at the Police Station, but went on to say he would commit suicide if it was not returned and necessary action taken against illegal transportation of sand.

According to family members, at the time, Gunawardena was under severe pressure. Just the day before, he had been indicted in a court case for firing at a crowd in the Wettumakada junction in Kalutara on orders received way back in 1995, which in turn had killed four individuals present there. While an investigation into this previous incident was carried out by the Police Special Investigation Unit, sources say, the Officer, a Superintendent of Police who Gunawardena claimed had given the order, refuted this leaving Gunawardena and others to be implicated. Shocked by the turn of events, on October 3 Gunawardena had wondered out aloud if he would be imprisoned as a result. His family say by this time he was disillusioned with the Police and was disappointed at the injustice and unfair treatment received at the hands of superiors, perhaps, leading to his actions. While Gunawardena has now been interdicted, the Special Investigations Unit of the Police has commenced an inquiry in this regard.

But, according to Deputy Minister of Law and Order, Nalin Bandara his actions cannot be ignored. “He has committed a serious wrong under the Penal Code,” he said, adding that however, it will be investigated whether any wrong had been committed against him as well. “We will find out if his superiors did in fact act in an incorrect manner after the cop did his duty,” Bandara said. “We have no interest to protect anyone, so currently, State Intelligence has been asked to look into this,” he said.

As investigation commenced charged with attempted murder and criminal intimidation among others, Gunawardena was however released by the courts this week after the Police dropped the charge of attempted murder. “Justice was served,” Gunawardena said following his release adding that certain elements tried to portray him as a madman. “The permit had expired on September 28, that is why I was enraged,” he said.

“If they had the necessary permit why was it held for three days at the Police without being released immediately” the cop’s wife questions.

Though his action may have caused panic in Thebuwana, many residents rallied together to support Gunawardena. Working at the Oddusuddan Police Station in 1990, Gunawardena was taken away by the LTTE as a prisoner of war and held by them, before being released in 1994 during the peace talks. His sufferings have not been forgotten by those in the area leading them to organize campaigns demanding his release.

But, according to Premaratne though the Police were quick to charge Gunawardena they are yet to take any action against the lorry owner. “Leaving the permit issue aside there is still the issue of the driver’s licence and violation of the regulations regarding signing in the time of transport as stipulated in the permit,” Premaratne says, adding that however, Thebuwana Police to date has not filed any charges or taken action on this.

According to Attorney at Law Ajith Prasanna who appeared for Gunawardena, this is evidence enough that the law now only applies to the common man and lower ranks while those such as DIG Nalaka De Silva who has been accused of plotting to kill prominent figures in the country remain a free man.


I can understand How easily Sinhala residents of both towns gathered and held a protest demanding his release Police Sergeant Sanath Gunawardena, because OIC of the Thebuwana Police is a Tamil T. Arulananthan. It is easy to do against a Demalu