Indictments served on Welikada massacre accused | Sunday Observer

Indictments served on Welikada massacre accused

21 July, 2019
Body of deceased inmate Susanth. Magistrate examining the scene of crime around 1:30PM on November 10, 2012
Body of deceased inmate Susanth. Magistrate examining the scene of crime around 1:30PM on November 10, 2012

Nearly seven years after the gruesome massacre of 27 inmates which took place within the walls of the Welikada Prison, the Attorney General’s department finally served the main accused with indictments this week. Two of the main accused in the case Police Inspector Moses Neomal Rangajeewa formerly of the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) and Former Welikada Prison Commissioner Emil Ranjan Lamahewage were served with the indictments on Friday before a special Trial at Bar. The Trial at Bar comprising of High Court Judges Gihan Kulatunge, Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakaratne was appointed by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya earlier this month on the request of Attorney General Dappula De Livera.

The indictments were served eventually after Attorney General Dappula De Livera took an interest in four high profile cases including the Welikada Prison Massacre Case last month. Writing to the Acting IGP Chandana Wickramaratne, the Attorney General ordered the final investigation reports of the Welikada massacre case to be submitted noting that no proper investigations had taken place until the lapse of five years since the massacre in 2012 and that investigations had only commenced properly in 2017.

While both Rangajeewa and Lamahewage were present before courts on Friday, noticeably absent in courts was the third main suspect Imaduwage Indika Sampath who was attached to the Welikada Prison Intelligence Unit when the massacre took place. Sampath has been absconding since January 2018 and is believed to be residing in the United Kingdom now.

But never the less the trial against the accused will now commence on August 2 as the Attorney General has initiated legal action against the trio under 33 counts, including the murder of 27 prison inmates during the raid, conspiracy and illegal gathering.

For the victims and witnesses of the Welikada prison massacre case, who have faced numerous threats and obstacles in their fight for justice one can assume this would seem like a triumph which has brought them one step closer to justice. The duo was released on an Rs. 100,000 cash bail each with two sureties for Rs. 500,000, their passports were impounded and they were restrained from foreign travel.

While all this may look like positive steps to deliver justice which has eluded the victims and their families, according to Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera who represents several of the victims in the case, the indictments filed — based on an incomplete investigations report which fails to mention the mastermind of the massacre — is of no solace to them.

According to Perera, the main question that remains to be answered is who masterminded this gruesome massacre that occurred on November 9 and 10 in 2012 within the Welikada prison walls leading to the deaths of 27 inmates.

On November 9, around 1.30 pm, 300 Police Special Task Force (STF) personnel entered the prison on the premise that they were there to assist in a raid set to be carried out by Prison officials to confiscate illegal arms, drugs and mobile phones. But, by 4.30 pm, all hell breaks loose within the prison. The forceful entry of the STF and the Army to the prison in the guise of an illegal weapons raid eventually resulted in chaos and blood.

Eyewitness testimonies, particularly that of inmates Sudesh Nandimal Silva and Sahan Sri Keerthi place Rangajeewa right in the midst of the chaos that unfolded. According to the statements, it appears the prisoners were provoked into fighting back causing a full-scale riot, and this becomes the rationale to call the Army in to manage the situation. Along with the Army, in the early hours of November 10, Rangajeewa too had entered the prison bearing a list of inmate names.

Sudesh Nandimal Silva, at the time an inmate himself, in his statement recognized Neomal Rangajeewa and his link to the incident that occurred. Giving evidence, Nandimal had said a man in civvies wearing a yellow t-shirt had walked in along with the Army that night holding out a list of names and was also armed with a pistol. According to Nandimal, he had called out names of several prisoners including that of A. Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara who had allegedly screamed out ‘Mr. Rangajeewa don’t kill me’.

One victim of that night had previously filed a petition at the Human Rights Commission against Rangajeewa while the mother of another victim Nirmala Atapattu had done so on a previous occasion. The mother of Gundu, yet another victim that night, was said to be a witness to a murder incident connected to Rangajeewa. All of them met the same fate that night.

Nandimal had said he later witnessed Thushara being dragged away to the gate at the entrance to the Industrial factory office building and shot dead. He had also witnessed inmate Amila Malik Perera alias Konda Amila being led away.

Later, the next morning, while being taken to their cells, Nandimal and other prisoners had witnessed that Thushara had been shot in his neck below the ear while Konda Amila was also seen lying dead at the same spot.

And as for Lamahewage’s connection to the incident, a senior prison official, an eyewitness for the state giving evidence had identified him as one of the conspirators behind the massacre.

Meanwhile, witness Sudesh Nandimal Silva had identified that it was the now absconding accused Indika Sampath who had been attached to the Intelligence and Security Division of the Prison at the time that had intervened and asked prison officials to let the forces enter and that he will take responsibility. Initially, according to eyewitnesses, there had been an argument between the prison officials and the STF troops on the due procedure for the search operation but it was Sampath that had allowed them to enter the prison.

But according to Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera, while the three were clearly involved in the incident, the question remains as to who masterminded the massacre and ordered the STF to storm the prison that day. In fact, on April 24, 2018, when the Magisterial inquiry into the case was taken up before the Colombo Chief Magistrate, Courts ordered the investigators to uncover who gave orders to kill the inmates during the riots.

Then once again, on May 22, Colombo Additional Magistrate Chamari Weerasooriya ordered the CID to focus their investigations on the officials who ordered law enforcement and the armed forces to enter the prison on the day. Despite orders from the court, the CID never followed through, Perera alleged.

“The victims and their families are dissatisfied,” he told the Sunday Observer. In fact, with the STF coming under the purview of the Ministry of Defence at the time, he questions as to how can such a dastardly act be carried out in this brazen manner on order from the higher up.

Silva giving evidence had also noted that the STF personnel had insisted this was an order by the Defence Ministry and that protocols are not needed and that they would enter whether the Prison Officials liked it or not.

Perera pointed out that the order which is inherently illegal could have only been carried out with the blessings of someone powerful. “With whose powers did they enter the prison that day,” he asked, adding that, according to the Prison’s Ordinance, taking firearms inside a prison and tear-gassing inmates is illegal. According to him, even if the individual who gave the order did not take part in the raid, he can be charged with conspiracy.

Blaming the CID for a botched investigation, Perera laments that indictments have been filed merely against the trio without the key question being answered and bringing in others who are responsible for the bloody massacre. “It was up to the Attorney General’s Department to question as to why those who gave the orders were not investigated,” he said, adding that, however, there is nothing that can be done now.

Noting that if the CID had nabbed those who misused their power to order these killings, the case would have set a precedent. “But now this case will go down in history where gruesome murders of inmates were committed through the misuse of one’s limitless powers,” he said.

Meanwhile, a witness of the Welikada Prison Massacre case, journalist Kasun Pussawela, calls this a mere charade. “Unfortunately, as seen many times in our country, persons who are responsible, who ordered these criminal acts to be committed, are left unscathed,” he accused.

However, Pussawela pointed out that the opposite was seen when the Inspector General of Police and the Secretary of Defence was arrested for the failure to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks. “Why then did not the same logic apply in the Welikada Case?” he questioned, adding that the Secretary of Defence at the time and head of agencies under the Ministry should all be held liable for the inmate deaths.

According to him, this phenomenon does not apply to the Welikada massacre case alone. “Despite the government promising to deliver justice, indictments have only been filed against Anura Senanayake and a few others in the Waseem Thajudeen case,” he pointed out, adding that the CID had uncovered more information linking some power figures to the case. “But investigations along these lines never progressed,” he said.

As the legal maxim goes, not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. Pussawela added that it appears the law is being applied discriminately. “A normal man cannot order STF personnel to storm a prison, so who ordered this?” he demanded to know.

While the situation has created a mistrust of the law, Pussawela said even if the accused are sentenced to prison there is no assurance such an incident would not take place again while the masterminds roam free. “Those who were obviously involved are now trying to come into power. While the officers who carried out their orders might possibly languish in jail” he added.