South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The Supreme Court in separate rulings this week directed the State, police and prison authorities to pay a total of Rs 1,275,000 to two victims of torture—the latest in a series of recent judgments against the brutal practice.

The 55-year-old G.H.G. Nandani Kumari, a mother-of-three, was awarded compensation of Rs 500,000 together with Rs 50,000 payable by the State. She was granted Rs 200,000 payable from the personal funds of the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Matale prison. She was also awarded Rs 75,000 each from the personal funds of four female guards at the Bogambara prison in Kandy. This amounts to a total of Rs 1,050,000. She lives in Matale.

Separately, H S Rathnasiri Fernando, a 58-year-old father of four children from Warapitiya in Darga Town, was awarded Rs 100,000 as compensation and costs of Rs 25,000 payable by the State. He was also granted Rs 50,000 each from the personal funds of a sergeant and constable attached to the Welipenna police station. This is a total of Rs 225,000.

Ms. Kumari was subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment by prison officials when she was remanded for causing a simple cut injury on a finger of the wife of the Matale remand prison’s OIC, observed Justice Vijith K Malalgoda. She was acquitted and discharged of the said complaint in the Matale Magistrate’s Court. But she suffered from a permanent disability owing to the brutal assault on her while in remand prison.

Justice Malalgoda held Ms.Kumari’s Fundamental Rights (FRs) to have been violated. Justices Sisira J de Abrew and Murdu N B Fernando agreed. He also directed the Attorney General to consider prosecuting the respondents under the Provisions of the Torture Act if no steps have been taken so far.

H.M. Ekanayake, OIC of the Matale prison, along with B.M. Amunugama, K.S. Kumari Subasingha and N.P. Somapala, female guards at the Bogambara Prison in Kandy, are deemed to have violated the fundamental rights Nandani Kumari enshrined in Article 11 of the constitution (freedom from torture). They and, additionally, the Commissioner General of Prisons and Inspector General of Police, are held to have violated her fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution’s Article 12(1) which entitles citizens to equal protection under the law.

Ms. Kumari, the wife of a graduate teacher, was 45-years-old at the time of the incident in 2008. She came to an exchange of blows with a woman named Padma Kumari Ekanayake over the disposal of garbage near her house. Padma Kumari later complained to the Rattota police that Nandani had cut her with a knife, something she denies. She was held at the Matale remand prison when Padma Kumari’s husband was OIC.

The next morning, several female prison guards assaulted her for a period of time. Among other things, she was kicked, slapped on her ears and her head knocked against the wall. The Consultant Judicial Medical Officer (Matale) later observed five injuries including a high frequency hearing impairment which was identified as a permanent disability.

In the second case, Justice Murdu Fernando held that the Welipenna police Sergeant Dayarthna and Constable Madusanka meted out degrading treatment and caused humiliation to Rathnasiri Fernando before the general public. Justices Eva Wanasundera and Prasanna Jayawardena agreed.

At the time of the incident in 2010, the petitioner was employed as a toddy tapper in Parapathkotuwa. The two respondents–dressed in civils and on a motorbike–asked for toddy to which Mr. Fernando replied that he had none for sale. He alleged that they smelt of liquor at the time. They threatened him and disclosed that they were policemen.

The constable grabbed his toddy tapping knife and slashed Fernando on his left shoulder. They also beat him on his face, chest and abdomen. They removed his shirt and sarong, tied his hands behind his back and dragged him along the road for around 400 metres, prompting several villagers to object to such treatment. One brought a sarong for Fernando and got the policemen to untie his hands. Another recorded the entire incident on a mobile phone.

The Chief JMO in his medico-legal report said that, of the five injuries suffered by Mr. Fernando, the four on the head and lower abdomen were of grievous blunt force type (assault by hand); one on the left shoulder was from non-grievous sharp force (cut with manna knife); and the injury in the eardrum was from blunt force (slapping).