By Roel Raymond
Mayhem began in Mattakuliya on the eve of Saturday, July 3, when a youth from the area directly behind the police station was arrested on suspicion of having drugs in his possession and sustained injuries whilst in police custody.
The Official Report
Media reports said that the arrested youth had injured his hand whilst in police custody, prompting residents of the area to rise up in arms against police brutality, attacking the Mattakuliya Police Station with bricks and stones.
Unrest had continued the following day when several arrests were made in connection to the attack on the Mattakkuliya Police Station. Police officers had also claimed that the youth had injured his hand on a glass whilst trying to escape.
The area residents meanwhile, raised a cry that the police had taken revenge on the civilian uprising the evening before, by arriving in teams on the night of Saturday (3) and going on rampage, destroying the property and belongings of the residents of the area.
Police Spokesman SP Prashanth Jayakody went on record rubbishing the area residents’ claims, stating that the police had no reason to damage property, and that several teams from the police and the army had only been deployed to bring the previous day’s unruly situation under control.
Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya in the meantime, on Sunday the 4th, ordered the transfer of the entire police body at the Mattakkuliya Police Station, pending an inquiry into the incidents of Saturday night.
Subsequently journalists had not been allowed into the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court to report on the proceedings of the Mattakkuliya incident by a number of officers – believed to be from the CCD — who had said that they had specific instructions to do so.
The issuance of these instructions, according to media reports, was later denied by the police headquarters.
The Sunday Leader visited the area on Wednesday and heard an entirely different story. A cross section of residents from the area poured their hearts out, telling a tale where the police and the authorities played games with the genuine grievances of the people.
They said that the Mattakkuliya Police Station had been manned by an SI called Jayalath, for over five years, who together with a Grama Arakshaka named Sanjeewa, struck deals with drug dealers in the area (watte) and preyed on the poorer people.
The abuse had been going on for years, they claimed. They said that the police would often ask for bribes in the form of ‘half bottles of arrack’ and other such things, when asked to perform the simplest of duties.
The Incident – Take 1
In relation to this particular case, they said that the youth picked up was a three-wheel driver by the name of Nishantha. They claimed that the drugs were planted on Nishantha by the police, who had asked him to say that they belonged to the owner of the trishaw he drove – a man named Chooti Ukkun.
The drugs planted on Nishantha, they said, belonged to a man named Vajira (also from the watte), a known drug dealer, who was picked up by the police on Saturday afternoon, before Nishantha was accosted and beaten ‘senseless’ in the view of the people of the watte at around 6.45 in the evening.
They said that the police had then taken Nishantha to the police station (at the top of the road) where his mother had gone looking for him, having heard by then that her son had been beaten, accused and dragged off to the police station. They said that having gone to the police station, the mother had found the policemen cleaning blood off the floor.
When she had asked the policemen where her son was, she had been brusquely told that her son was not there and was ivarai (finished). The Sunday Leader attempted to speak directly to the mother in order to collaborate this statement, but was told that she was ‘heartbroken’ and would not speak.
On seeing the blood on the floor and hearing what the police had to say, Nishantha’s mother had begun screaming that her son was dead, which was when the residents said, the entire watte had for the first time ever, stood up against the police by attacking the police station.
The Incident – Take 2
The residents, who initially said they did not mind being named, but later asked for their names to be withdrawn for fear of further police reprimanding, said that the entire police body at the Mattakkuliya Police Station had run away when the residents of the watte turned on them.
They claimed that none of the police officers had been hurt and that it was only the police station that had taken the brunt of their anger, helplessness and frustration. There were no reports in the media of police injuries from the attack.
That night, at around 8 p.m., they said the policemen had returned to the police station with a number of ‘other’ men from the police and army (although dressed mainly in civil clothing) and gone on a systematic attack of the entire watte.
The residents claim that the attack by the police was made in revenge because the residents of the watte dared to rise up against the police. They said that the police officers that had appeared in the night had asked ‘by name’ for certain homes and damaged them.
Some residents say they were told to get into their houses and shut the doors, after which their windows were broken. Some houses had the marauding (suspected) police officers make away with money tills and meager jewellery and precious belongings.
The Incident – Take 3
The following morning, the residents said police jeeps had arrived at the watte with blaring loudspeakers, asking that all residents, including women and children, make their way to a nearby ground (Sri Wickrema Ground) for an important “announcement”.
The residents described the grounds as being surrounded by policemen, and said that they were kept there from 6 am to about 4 p.m. for an ‘identification parade’. At the identification parade, about 1500 of them were beaten and hauled into police buses in the area.
One such resident who was taken into custody as a ‘suspect’ said that they had been transported to various police stations – Narahenpita, Kotahena, Dematagoda and kept for over three days, beaten and then subsequently released.
As Things Stand
The residents claim the police are intimidating them. They said that even though they belong to the poorer area of town and had among them residents that had been previously arrested for petty crimes (pick-pocketing, possession of marijuana etc) they were not bad folk, but being targeted — based on their previous records by the Grama Arakshaka Sanjeewa and the (now former) OIC of the Mattakkuliya police who were cohorts with some of the bigger drug dealers in the area.
‘Police is the underworld’ they said, adding that Nishantha was still missing.
They new team at the Mattakkuliya police station — headed by IP Harischandra — had no comment to make on the incident, saying that the were brought in entirely new and were tasked with the enormous job of taking over a defunct police station and running it.
Police Spokesman SP Prashanth Jayakody, speaking to The Sunday Leader said that an identification process was in progress by the police. He said that 36 ‘suspects’ had been identified and were being held at the remand prison.
When asked about the whereabouts of the youth taken into custody, the Police Spokesman said that he was ‘also in remand’ as he was picked up on charges of drug possession.