Villagers In Kudabiridewa Face Police Vengeance
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Villagers in Kudabiridewa in Thambuttegama are in hiding for fear of being arrested and assaulted by the police.
They claim the police are persecuting them following a protest that turned violent outside the Thambuttegama Police earlier in the month.
The villagers of Kudabiridewa on the 2nd held a protest outside the Thambuttegama Police seeking justice for Chandrika.
Chandrika was a mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old son and she was killed when a tractor they were traveling in collided with a speeding van when they were returning home from attending a funeral.
Thushara Priyantha, a relative of Chandrika, explained that while Chandrika was killed in the accident, three others were badly injured.
“The van driver fled the scene and had got himself admitted to the hospital. He had surrendered to the police on the 31st,” he said.
However, the police had produced him before the Thambuttegama Magistrate on August 1st and released him on bail.
Thushara said the villagers were surprised when the van driver was released on bail when he was involved in an accident that had killed a person and injured several others.
“We believe that a person involved in such a serious accident is not given bail at least for 14 days until the investigation is carried out,” he observed.
The villagers had then decided to carry Chandrika’s coffin to the Thambuttegama Police to protest against the release of the van driver and to seek justice for the persons affected by the accident.
“When we proceeded towards the police station to protest, many others from the town participated in the protest.
These included persons affiliated to the governing party as well,” Thushara said.
The protest had gradually turned unruly and some persons amongst the crowd had started to throw stones at the police station. The police retaliated by firing tear gas at the protestors. However, following an assurance given by senior police officers that justice would be meted out, the villagers had returned with the coffin.
According to Thushara, the police had videoed the protest and the following day, the 3rd, personnel from the Thambuttegama Police had arrived at the village and started looking for the persons whom they had identified in the video images.
Several villagers whom the police personnel had met said on conditions of anonymity that police personnel had threatened them keeping pistols to their heads.
“The police asked me where my husband was and when I said he was not home, one officer kept a pistol to my head and asked me to tell where he was,” one villager said. Another said that the police had assaulted in public the few people they had apprehended from the village.
“Those who were taken in had been assaulted inside the police station as well,” the villagers alleged. They claim that personnel from the Thambuttegama Police were engaged in a politically motivated witch-hunt.
Thushara said that since the villagers had fled and are in hiding the seven-day sermon and alms giving in Chandrika’s memory had to be postponed by a few days.
“The villagers are gradually returning to the village, but are still living in fear,” he said, adding that the villagers hoped the police would apprehend the persons who really attacked the police station.
Police spokesperson SSP Ajith Rohana said the police would not condone any officer of the force threatening and assaulting persons before or after taking them into custody. “I’m not aware of the villagers being assaulted. It should not happen and if they complain it would be looked into,” he observed. However, Rohana said the police were engaged in arresting the persons responsible for the protest, those who instigated the crowd and the persons who attacked the Thambuttegama Police station. He pointed out that the protest held by the villagers on the 2nd was unlawful since it obstructed a main road and the protestors became violent.
“We have videos and photographs of the protest and have identified the persons involved in it.
The police are engaged in taking action against them, legally,” Rohana said. According to Rohana, the Thambuttegama Police had fired tear gas at the protestors only when they turned unruly and tried to forcibly break into the police station. He added that police would take action against all those including persons with political affiliations who had instigated the protestors to attack the Tambuttegama Police.