Amnesty concerned over safety of sexually tortured woman

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 16 July 2003, 02:57 GMT]
Amnesty International Tuesday expressed concern for safety of a woman who is being held in the remand prison in Kandy, the island’s hill capital that she and her family may face reprisals after six Sri Lankan Policemen, including an officer were charged with sexually torturing her in custody.

Following exposure in the local media and a campaign by several human rights organizations over the plight of Nandini Herat, the officer in charge (OIC) of the Wariyapola Police station was charged under the Torture Act of 1994 on July 14.

Tamil human rights lawyers and activists say that the Sri Lankan legal system has been partial in its application of the Torture Act despite the fact that thousands of Tamils have been indiscriminately subjected to torture by Sri Lankan armed forces under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations (ER).

Although local and international human rights organizations have regularly expressed concern over sexual torture and harassment to which thousands of Tamil woman, arrested under the PTA and ER, have been subjected in the custody of Sri Lankan armed forces, the country’s Attorney General has been reluctant to apply the Torture Act to punish the perpetrators accused in the few cases where legal proceedings were instituted.

The following is the full text of the AI appeal: Nandini Herat is being detained at Kandy remand prison in Kandy district, while awaiting trial proceedings on a charge of theft. Amnesty International fears that there may be reprisals against her and her family after the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Wariyapola police in Kurunegala district was charged with torturing Nandini Herat in detention.

On 8 March 2002, Nandini Herat was arrested on suspicion of theft; a charge which she has denied. While in the custody of the Wariyapola police, she was subjected to sexual torture. In August 2002, six police officers, including the OIC of the Wariyapola police, were charged in the Magistrates' Court with her torture, but no trial took place and the police officers were not suspended from duty. Subsequently, on 14 July 2003, the OIC of Wariyapola police was charged in the High Court under the Sri Lanka Torture Act of 1994.

He has been released on bail despite the fact that Section 2 (5) of the Torture Act specifies that such a charge is an unbailable offence. It is believed that the other five officers reportedly involved in the torture of Nandini Herat, of whom one is a female police constable, may be formally charged on 15 July.

Nandini Herat and her father Herat Mudiyanselage Herat Banda have repeatedly been threatened and intimidated by police in an attempt to force them to withdraw the allegations of torture (see UA 281/02, ASA 37/014/2002, 10 September 2002, and follow-ups). They have also been offered money if they withdrew the case.

They have made a number of complaints about the harassment they have faced, including to the Deputy Inspector General of Police, but have not received any assurances that the complaint would be investigated. It is thought they may be in increased danger following the indictment of the Wariyapola OIC, and the possible forthcoming charges against the five other police officers.

The theft case against Nandini Herat is set to continue for some time, after police claimed they had not concluded their investigations. Nandini Herat was remanded in the custody of the Magistrates' Court, and in a serious breach of legal protocol, the magistrate in charge of the case granted a police request to amend the charge sheet and call new witnesses, even though the trial was in progress.

Amnesty International fears that the slow progress of this trial is part of a deliberate attempt to increase the pressure on Nandini Herat to drop the allegations of torture against the six police officers.

On 1 July, Nandini Herat was not produced in court for an extension of her remand period. Under Sri Lankan law, an extension for the renewal of remand of a detainee must take place every 14 days and the detainee must be produced in court. Since Nandini Herat has not been produced in court, her continued detention may therefore be illegal.

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