State to reconsider indictment on tortured prisoner
[TamilNet, Saturday, 17 February 2001, 08:47 GMT]
The state counsel in the Colombo High Court moved Friday for a date to consider withdrawing the indictment on a Jaffna youth who was tortured in detention and is currently being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) at the remand prison in Kalutara. The report of the judicial medical officer who examined the prisoner two years after his arrest said in his report that the youth, Thambiraja Pathmanathan, 29, of Puthu Veethy, Aarukaal Madam, Aanaikottai, had been burnt with cigarettes and had scars on his head and other parts of the body from injuries caused with a blunt weapon. “At least 16-18 PTA cases involving torture are heard in the Colombo High courts every week. But in many instances the medical reports of the prisoners do not give the correct picture,” an attorney at law who appears for Tamil political prisoners said.
Thambiraja, married and father of two, was arrested by the Sri Lanka army on 28 January 1998 and was held at the Thavady camp for two days where he was severely assaulted with bars and cables. He was then taken to the Manipay SLA camp where he was beaten up again until 3 February when he was transferred to the Police detention centre in Kankesanthurai located inside the sprawling Sri Lankan security forces’ base. Here too he was severely tortured and burnt with cigarettes.
Thambiraja was then transferred to the Anuradhapura remand prison on 26 March and held there four days. Anuradhapura is a large Sinhala town, 195 kilometers south of Jaffna.
Human rights organisations and lawyers in Jaffna complain that transferring the cases of persons arrested in Jaffna under the Emergency Regulations and held under the PTA is unjust because Tamil political prisoners cannot find attorney’s to appear for them here and because the judicial environment in Anuradhapura is inevitably laced with bias and hostility.
On 30 March 1998 Thambiraja was taken to the Kalutara remand prison, 43 kilometers south of Colombo. An indictment was eventually served on him under 2.1 (h) of the PTA on 24 November 1999. He was accused of receiving weapons training from the Liberation Tigers in Jaffna, a common charge brought against Tamils arrested and detained under the PTA.
The attorney appearing for Thambiraja, Mr. P. Navaraj moved for trial and a medical legal report (MLR) on the prisoner on 13 March 2000. Trial was fixed for 2 August 2000. The MLR was submitted to court on that day.
All witnesses in the case were absent at the next hearing on 6 December 2000.
Under the PTA, sole witnesses in a case are the Police officer who takes down a detainee’s confession, the Police typist who typed it and the Policeman who translated during the confession. The sole evidence permitted is the confession of the prisoner.
However, the PTA says that the confession should be obtained in accordance with section 24 of Sri Lanka’s evidence ordinance, which states that a confession should not be obtained under duress.
Lawyers appearing for Tamil political prisoners say that at times it is difficult to prove that a confession has been obtained under duress-meaning torture- because many MLRs gloss over or ignore clear evidence of torture.
Also, even when indictments are eventually served on Tamil political prisoners after they have been transferred from jail to jail and have languished in judicial custody for years and dates for trials are fixed, witnesses most often than not fail to appear. This is because the Policemen cited as witnesses in a PTA cases are long transferred from the place where the confession had been obtained or are retired or have left the service.
This is the second reason for the undue prolongation of the trials during which the prisoner continues to languish in custody.