Police close eye on political striptease
The Sunday Times speaks to women who were forced to remove their
clothes at gun point allegedly by PA thugs
By Hiranthi Fernando
Three women were stripped and paraded by political
thugs in the run-up to the Wayamba polls, but the police are sitting on
the cases even after the victims had named the culprits, an investigation
by The Sunday Times reveals.
Two incidents of violence against women took place in Wariyapola and
one in Galgamuwa, but when The Sunday Times spoke to the police, senior
officers passed the buck saying the incident is being probed by other officers.
But it appears no police officer is pursuing the cases.
At Gantiriyagama, a remote village in the Wariyapola electorate, we
met 50-year-old B.M. Chandrawathie, a grandmother, who was subjected to
this heinous act by thugs operated in Wayamba with the patronage of powerful
Chandrawathie, has been a UNP activist since 1971. She is a cluster organizer
of the party in the Gantiriyawa area.
"We were canvassing at the junction. Suddenly I heard a gunshot from
an area close by where a UNP group was canvassing. Soon we saw a van blocking
our path. About eight men armed with guns and iron bars jumped out of the
vehicle. I recognized two of them. One was a PA Pradeshiya Sabha member
from the area. The other was a man from Hanhamunuwa," Ms. Chandrawathie
related the horror she experienced in the afternoon of January 19.
She said the gang beat them with iron bars and rifle butts and made
her and her colleagues kneel in the middle of the road. The gang then forced
the men in the UNP group to remove their shirts and trousers. When resisted
the men were beaten, she said.
"The gang then robbed us of our belongings and turned their attention
on me," a terror-struck Chandrawathie said and began to tell us what awaited
her at the hands of these political sex perverts.
"They asked me to remove my clothes. When I refused, they hit me again.
I removed two buttons of my blouse reluctantly and they pulled it off.
They pulled the strap of my brassiere but I held on to it. Then they pulled
off the cloth (Redda) I was wearing. They threatened to stab me unless
I removed my underskirt. One man pulled down the elastic waist of my skirt
with the rod. Holding the gun against my body one man fired a shot. They
then asked us to run to Katupotha. I somehow managed to cling on to my
underskirt. They kept on hitting us and we had no option but to run. The
gang followed us in the van. We ran about half a mile to the junction.
At the junction, they overtook us and told us to bring other UNPers and
come to Katupotha Town.
"We ran into the jungle, but noticing that Justin Galapathy, a former
councillor in the Wayamba council, who was with us was missing we went
back to the road to look for him. He was badly injured and was not able
to run far. We saw him trying to enter a house. The occupant of the house
however, asked us not to come in since they feared they would also be shot.
So we had to keep on running naked. My son, who had heard of the incident,
came running to find us. I shouted to him to find us some clothes from
somewhere and we ran on to the jungle behind the temple garden. We remained
in hiding until my son managed to bring a vehicle for us."
Clad in an assortment of clothes, the UNP group went to the Katupotha
Police Station to lodge a complaint against an unprecedented act in the
history of political violence in Sri Lanka.
The story did not end here. The horror followed her even while Ms. Chandrawathie
was being treated at Kurunegala hospital for her injuries.
She said she had to be discharged in a hurry in fear for her safety,
because a van was lingering at the gate. She was kept in hiding until January
26. Sub Inspector Piyasena of Katupotha Police said he was on duty when
Ms. Chandrawathie and the others had arrived there half clad. He said the
Police went to the scene immediately but no one came forward to tell the
story for fear of being harassed by political thugs. Asked why the police
could not arrest the two men identified by Ms. Chandrawathie, SI Piyasena
said they were missing from their houses.
Seventeen-year-old Dulani from Minuwangetta, Wariyapola was another
victim. She lay in bed still recovering from her injuries. She is unable
to stand or walk.
who had just sat her G.C.E. (O.L) examination and was out of school, joined
her father, elder sister and about sixty others in the UNP's house-to-house
campaign, on January 20.
"I was in a group which also included three other girls from the village
when a van stopped by us. The other girls saw the van and ran away. I did
not sense danger and so was left alone. About eight men jumped off the
van, carrying guns. Then I ran in fear. They chased me. I fell on the road.
Someone hit me with a stick. They pulled me along the gravel road and asked
me to kneel on the road. They caught two of the other girls and also asked
them to kneel, but did not hit them.
"When I refused to remove my clothes, they pulled me by my hair and
hit me three or four times with an iron bar. They wanted to know who my
father was. I refused to tell them and they slapped me and hit me with
the butt of the gun. They also kicked me on the neck. Then they asked me
if I knew them? I did know most of them. They told me they knew who my
father was and where I lived. They threatened to kill us if we made any
compalaint to the police
"In the meantime two villagers whom the gang had lined up with us ran
away. As the gang ran behind them I tried to get up and run. They saw me,
grabbed my umbrella and hit me on the head. Again ordering me to kneel
and not move they chased behind the two villagers. There were about 500
people at the junction. The gang threatened to shoot anyone who came near
us. Finally, we managed to get up and hide behind a boutique. I half crawled
and half dragged myself holding on to the walls. We went inside a shop.
I felt very sick. I could not talk or swallow. A villager took me to Wariyapola
Hospital, from where I was transferred to Kurunegala Hospital."
Dulani was warded for three days at Kurunegala. She is now back at home
but still confined to her bed. Her statement has been recorded at the Police
Post at the hospital and sent on to Wariyapola Police station.
The Officer in Charge at Wariyapola Police station says they have not
been able to arrest the suspects yet. They are not in their homes and are
evading arrest. He says they are still making inquiries. The two culprits
named by Chandrawathie have also been named by Dulani to be among her attackers.
She has also named at least four others.
The question that is being asked is whether the police are so inefficient
as to be unable to arrest the culprits who have been named by the two victims.
Two weeks have passed and there has been no headway whatsoever. Two
females, one a grandmother, one still a child, have suffered physical and
emotional trauma at the hands of a bunch of crude thugs who remain free
to inflict damage on other women and children.
The Deputy Inspector General for Kurunegala could only say he was new
to his post. The Assistant Superintendent in charge of District 3 says
it is handled by A.S.P. District 2. The A.S.P. District 2 says he is not
inquiring into the matter and we should make inquiries at the respective
police stations. The Senior Superintendent of Police also passed the buck
to the police stations concerned and did not wish to talk about it.
Right of reply
We have received the following fax message from M.H.M.
Navavi, PA Member elect for the Wayamba Provincial Council:
I wish to draw your kind attention to the news that appeared in your
paper on 31.01.99 under the headline of "Poll Mess" on page 7.
In paragraph 6 of that article, Independent candidate Mr. Aslam says
that I had gone inside the polling booth at Zahira College, grabbed the
guns from the police officer, pushed the S.P.O aside, grabbed the ballot
papers and called my crowd in and started marking, punching and putting
the ballot papers.
I never went to this polling booth with the Muslim Congress organiser.
Neither did I grab the gun from the police officer nor did I grab ballot
papers and start marking and punching.
The police officer will vouch for this. I have already made a complaint
at the Puttalam police station.
I belong to a minority community and I never indulge in thuggery or
My political career for the past 25 years did not show any such violence
by me or by my supporters.
Our Correspondent Hiranthi Fernando states:
Whatever Mr. Navavi may have to say, our own independent investigations
revealed a sham poll especially at the Zahira College polling centre at
Puttalam. When we visited the booth two days after election day I was able
to obtain several ballot papers (see below) marked for the PA symbol (chair).
Preferential votes had also been cast.
We do not want to elaborate because election petitions have now been
Breach of privilege
By Chamintha Thilakarathna
The violence in Wayamba is being taken up not only
in courts but also in parliament as a matter of a breach of privilege.
UNP MP Karunasena Kodituwakku has written to Speaker K. B. Ratnayake
complaining that the police were guilty of a breach of privilege because
they failed to give him the security required by a parliamentarian.
Dr. Koidtuwakku said although a request had been made to the relevant
inspector requesting protection on that day, he had failed to take prompt
action. He said the police made no effort to provide him with security
after he had complained of a pre-dawn attack on him in Alawwa on election
day. On the contrary the police had wanted to remand him and party members
the next day, he said.
Underworld gets guns
A state security agency tasked to protect VIPs has
come under close scrutiny.
This is after reports that the agency concerned had allegedly issued
weapons to some underworld characters at the recently concluded Wayamba
The agency concerned is learnt to have issued the weapons on the instructions
of a senior security official.
'People disempowered, police and polls officers paralysed'
An independent polls monitoring group has reiterated
its call for the annulment of the Wayamba provincial elections, saying
it was a tragic scene where the sovereign people were not empowered but
disempowered while the police and polls officers were paralysed.
"The Police were unwilling or unable to take adequate steps to ensure
the maintenance of law and order both before and during the elections.
There were many instances of police officers who performed their duties
with a commendable commitment. But on the whole they seemed as paralysed
as the policeman who told an election monitor that his duty was limited
to protecting his gun and the ballot box," said the People's Action for
free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL).
In an interim report PAFFREL gave details of incidents where there was
systematic intimidation and impersonation of voters, stuffing of ballot
boxes, chasing away of polling agents and acts of violence.
"The public officials on election duty appeared to be as intimidated
in the performance of their legitimate duties as the Police. There is evidence
that many of them failed to report the electoral abuses that took place
in their areas of responsibility. Some of them yielded to the mobs who
unlawfully entered the polling booths without asserting their rights. The
lack of independence of the police and polls officials, and their vulnerability
to intimidation by members of the ruling party have been highlighted by
the events that have taken place.
"We have no illusions concerning the record of the UNP during elections,
when they were the ruling party.But the issue is not whether the performance
of the PA is a shade better or worse than that of the UNP.
'We feel strongly that these elections have betrayed the confidence
and expectations that the people had placed in the pledges made by the
major political parties at the general elections of 1994.
"Those elections had signalled a turnaround from the decline in standards
of free and fair elections that had commenced with the Jaffna District
Development Council elections held in 1981.
Tragically, the most logical prediction following the Wayamba elections
is that the decline has set in once again.
The next series of elections may be even more bitterly contested and
the country doomed to a further cycle of violence.
"Instead of being an empowering experience for the people, election
time has become a time of disempowerment of the voting public.
A civic organisation that has set itself the goal of upholding the fundamental
rights of citizens cannot compromise on its standards. Nor can it avoid
the controversy that will accompany the judgement it makes.
The decision taken by PAFFREL and the Movement for Free and Fair Election
(MFFE) shortly after the polls closed on January 25 to call for an invalidation
of the Wayamba elections has undoubtedly been a drastic one. But we believe
it was a necessary decision and we reaffirm it in this interim report and
will follow up with a fuller final report."
The report adds that given the lessons learnt at the Wayamba elections,
PAFFREL expects better judgment and adherence to democratic norms to prevail
at the next elections.
It is of particular importance that the government should realise the
need for the independence and integrity of the police and public officials
in the conduct of their election duties, it said.
PAFFREL doubles up for polls ahead
With elections to five more provincial councils to be held within three
months, the main polls monitoring group, the Peoples Action for Free and
Fair Elections (PAFFREL), has begun recruitment of volunteers for the major
PAFFREL Executive Director Kingsley Rodrigo told The Sunday Times they
would require another 1,500 members to monitor elections since the polls
in five provinces were to be held on one and the same day.
PAFFREL mobilised some 1,500 volunteers for polls monitoring in Wayamba.
'We have already started the recruitment and the training of personnel.
It will be concluded in a few weeks. Apart from the recruitment we have
also started educating and conducting seminars for the Grama Niladharis
and other public servants. They are being educated on legal aspects as
well," he said.
He dug his grave before he was killed?
In one of the most horrifying incidents related to
the Wayamba polls, a UNP supporter is alleged to have been forced to dig
his own grave then shot and his body burnt in a manner that little if any
thing was recognisable, family members said.
The burnt body was found at Katupotha in the Kurunegala district three
days after the election though the man had disappeared after a UNP election
meeting on January 10. .
According to Police, the body found on the Damunuwa Road, close to Galahitiyawa
Temple had been burned with a fluid, probably petrol.
An amulet on a gold chain hung round the neck. The remnants of a banian
resembling camouflage fabric were seen on the body.
According to the police, villagers have reported hearing a gunshot in
the neighbourhood around 11 pm. on January 28. The sound of a motor cycle
is also reported to have been heard. At the scene, about 350 yards away
from the body, a pit had been dug measuring about five feet by three feet,
and a spade was found by the side. The sand particles found on the feet
of the corpse are said to be similar to the sand in the pit. The owner
of the spade has not been found.
The police believe that the man may have been made to dig his grave.
The Judicial Medical Officer Kurunegala who conducted the post mortem
said that death could be due to gunshot injuries to the chest cavity.
After the inquest was held, the body was sent to the Kuliyapitiya mortuary
and messages were sent out to other stations about the unidentified body.
In the meantime, a family at Wariyapola had reported a family member
missing since January 10. Hearing that a body had been found, family members
came and claimed the body as being that of their missing brother, Jayawardena
He was identified by an injury to his leg from an accident he had met
with. After taking blood samples and photographs of the body as well as
keeping some clothes samples, the body was released to the family.
At a news conference at the Opposition Leader's Office in Colombo on
Friday, the dead man's mother Ms. Wijeratne, his wife, Iranganie and nine
year old daughter were present. The weeping mother related that her son
had gone to the pola on January 10 to sell betel. According to UNP's chief
ministerial candidate Gamini Jayawickrema Perera who conducted the press
conference, Somaratne had attended a UNP. meeting after he left the pola.
He was seen leaving the meeting carrying some posters. He was also heard
shouting at a gang burning tyres at the junction. That was the last they
heard of him.
Police say they have no information about who killed Somaratne or where
he was kept from January 10 when he disappeared till the 28th, when he
Bishop Calls for democratic values
Pointing out that the right to vote and to be voted
for is the essence and foundation of a democratic way of life, Anuradhapura
Bishop Oswald Gomis has said in an independence day message that ominous
signs lurking with every election campaign in the recent past indicate
a dangerous and backward trend that has brought the nation to the brink
of a total denial of that right.
"The question today is not who initiated this derogation or who perpetuated
it. No one has a right to commit evil on the flimsy excuse that others
have done so before.
The Bishop appealed to all political leaders to uphold the fundamental
values of democracy and assert that it is the free will and welfare of
the people, and nothing else, that would be the determinant in national
"Fifty-one years of freedom would be negated unless the present leaders
of all political parties uphold this fundamental right."
All together or none, says UNP
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The UNP said yesterday it would contest the upcoming
provincial elections only if the polls were held to all provinces on the
same day and if the government gave an assurance that what happened in
Wayamba would not happen again.
Party General Secretary Gamini Atukorale, reiterating charges that the
PA had carried out mass scale violence and rigging in Wayamba, said the
19 UNP members elected to the Wayamba council would not take their oaths
as a mark of protest.
Meanwhile Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said elections
to all five provinces would be held on the same day.