Justice and the Police must withstand ethno-politics | Sunday Observer

Justice and the Police must withstand ethno-politics

In combating terrorism, the state’s security agencies and specialist counter-insurgency units tenaciously hold on to ‘suspects’ rather than risk letting loose potential combatants to possibly wreak havoc. In this country, wracked as we have been by successive insurgencies, every community and many neighbourhoods have experienced detention of their people under Emergency Regulations and under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Right now, the country is again under Emergency Law and, a few hundred ‘suspect’ terrorists or their collaborators have been rounded up with rapidity and detained under the PTA.

It was under the PTA that Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen, a popular doctor in Kurunegala, was detained in late May amid sensational accusations of money laundering on the one side and deliberate covert gynaecological practice of non-consensual ethnically targeted sterilisation of women. Despite all the vicious news media hype of ethnic genocidal conspiracy, among other equally grave charges, the moment the state’s investigative and counter-terror agencies began probing this case, not only was the hollowness of the accusations apparent, but hints of deliberate actions by personal enemies began to be thrown up in the subsequent court hearings.

While the complicity of some news media and internet websites in the socially incendiary ‘sterilisation’ accusations is a matter that also requires inquiry and redemptive action, more immediately, the nation and the world is watching the working of the judiciary system and the law and order agencies as they deal with this case.

The doctor has since been recommended release from PTA detention by the security agencies and more recently, later than expected, he has been granted bail buy court. More importantly, probing by the investigation agencies, principally the CID, has now shifted to unravelling what appears to be actions by several interested parties in creating a false phenomenon of ethnic sterilisation conspiracy targeting one ethnic community.

The roles played by certain police and hospital personnel in the raising of this ‘sterilisation’ alarm are now being investigated for possible complicity in harassment and targeting of this doctor as a scapegoat in an ethnic alarmist campaign. The complexity of the case is such today that it was not surprising when the national investigative authorities in Colombo took control of the case and endeavoured to neutralise the influences of local actors.

In this light it was unusual that the National Police Commission had initially wanted to take the CID off the Shafi case. The CID has now joined concerned civil society groups and Dr. Shafi’s family in making representtions to the Judicial Services Commission about possible elements of obstruction of justice by various actors in involved institutions.

This concerted appeal to the national-level authorities seems to be for a thorough scrutiny of the role played in the whole sordid affairs by the local hospital administration, the local judicial and police hierarchies. In this light, the sudden reversal of a decision taken by the National Police Commission to transfer out of station, the Police Deputy Inspector General for Kurunegala, also is a cause for surprise. This DIG, as well other senior Police officers in Kurunegala have now become the subject of scrutiny in relation to the Shafi case and the seeming ‘frame-up’ of an ethnic minority doctor with the cynical objective of worsening inter-ethnic tensions and intensifying social fears.

The clumsiness of the latest move by the Police Commission in reversing the transfer order within hours of announcing the original transfer decision and the vague reason for the reversal being offered as explanation to the news media does not present a picture of a complex, sensitive, case being deftly handled.

It is to be hoped that the other national-level supervisory agencies like the JSC respond to the emerging contingencies in the Kurunegala situation in a manner that brings reason and clarity to the process of justice and administrative correction. At present, the revelation of questionable roles by police, judicial and medical actors in Kurunegala gives the impression that various other forces with ethno-political and propagandist intentions are influencing events and processes.

At the crux of it all is the life of a doctor and his family on the one hand and, on the other, the perpetuation of a myth of covert targeted ethnic sterilisation aimed at worsening inter-ethnic tensions and general societal security.

Can the country’s system of law and order and the judiciary stand firm against the pressures of crude and unjust ethno-politics or will the institutions of the State cave into fears that bravely correct actions would ‘cause more issues’?