Alone in the line of fire | Sunday Observer

Alone in the line of fire

In the heat of a political campaign, the higher the stakes, the bolder the promises made by the contenders. Once the victor is elected and the dust settles, however, it falls on public servants of all stripes to see to the execution of these lofty goals. When it comes to development initiatives, ministry secretaries and public authority staff need to make the wheels turn. Promises on the world stage are left in the hands of foreign service officers to see that they are brought to reality and promises to pass laws need those bills to be assembled by the Legal Draftsman.

When a government promises to restore the rule of law and see that justice is done in emblematic cases by restoring the independence of the law enforcement system and allowing the conduct of credible investigations, it is up to the police officers conducting those probes to ultimately realize that promise.

Since the Yahapalanaya government was swept into power in 2015 on a promise of seeking justice for victims of Rajapaksa era atrocities, no public servant has shouldered a larger share of the burden of ensuring thorough and independent investigations more than the incumbent CID Director Shani Abeysekara.

Whether it is the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, murder of Wasim Thajudeen or any number of cold cases, Abeysekara’s CID was the tip of the spear, resurrecting ancient case files, wiping off the dust and moving mountains to tell the magistrates courts and the public what happened to these victims and at whose hands.

For four and a half painstaking years, investigators have butted heads with everyone from fellow police officers, cabinet ministers and various military commanders, slowly piecing together bits of the puzzle before our eyes. But with every current or former official or military officer caught up in their dragnet, Abeysekara and the CID found that those whose political promises were being fulfilled by the CID’s investigations became more and more scarce as the going got tougher.

Today, with over 20 military intelligence officers credibly named as suspects in the systematic abduction, torture and murder of journalists, and at least a handful having given corroborated confessions that their orders emanated from a certain American citizen, the pressure on Abeysekara and his CID has reached a fever pitch.

The CID director and Inspector Silva have both been threatened with death. Attorneys and monks routinely call them criminals and charlatans at press conferences given wide publicity by media networks aligned to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Frivolous cases are being filed against the CID director on a semi-regular basis, and barely a day passes without the two-bit attorney Ajith Prasanna parading around a courthouse claiming to have enough evidence to jail Abeysekara, but somehow lacking the wherewithal to prevent any such evidence before any court.

Little more is to be expected from a lawyer who has been arrested for assaulting a police officer with the national flag, who got caught cheating on an army promotion exam and was convicted by a court martial for disobeying orders and refusing to lead his troops into battle. How this self-proclaimed guardian of war heroes still qualifies to practice law boggles the mind.

In July, the CID director was forced to complain to the Colombo Fort Police when another attorney threatened on television to have him thrown in jail. Prasanna’s allegation that Abeysekara’s children were studying overseas on the dime of the LTTE diaspora was debunked by the Director’s testimony in Parliament that neither of his children have, to date, “set foot on the premises of an airport”. Now he has adopted a new canard. Prasanna alleges, with his signature zero quanta of evidence, that Abeysekara has made plans to flee to Australia when the government changes.

Just last Friday, yet another monk declared triumphantly while standing inside Police Headquarters that Abeysekara “will get what is coming to him” in three months’ time, apparently after the presidential election. Whether this fate would be a sacking, a jail cell or a white van, the monk failed to specify, but it was crystal clear that unless Abeysekara wanted to face political persecution, he was expected to immediately cease any CID investigations involving You-Know-Who.As the CID and its director continue their work in the face of such threats, citizens are left to wonder why they have been hung out to dry by the powers that be and left to fight these battles alone. Traditionally, the police would be protected by their peers in the justice system. But today, it seems these peers would sooner see the CID’s independence drawn on a hearse straight to a funeral parlour.