Mirror wall By Kassapa
At first it appeared it was only President Ranil Wickremesinghe who was a law unto himself but now there is a serious competitor for the President: his Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) Deshabandu Tennakoon.Tennakoon, with the full blessings of Minister of Tiran Alles has launched ‘Yukthiya’, an operation which purportedly aims to rid the country of illicit drugs.
The public is fed daily with news and footage of the amount of substances seized and the number of persons detained. Soon, if Tennakoon is to be believed, Sri Lanka will be drug-free.The reality is unfortunately quite different. Many have questioned the wisdom of detaining those using or possessing drugs, filling up already overcrowded prisons. These are the end users or the small-time dealers, the small fry in the massive business of drug smuggling. To date, we have not been informed a single large-scale exporter of illicit drugs to the country being nabbed.Sri Lanka is an island. It does not manufacture illicit drugs. It is not rocket science to deduce that all illicit drugs in the country must arrive either from air or sea. Would it not be much easier and much more cost-effective to stop the smuggling of illicit drugs than throw out a dragnet for thousands of drug users? Unless, of course, Tennakoon and his Police are not keen on arresting the real king-pins of the drug trade who frequently have political connections.
There are aspects of this ‘Yukthiya’ operation which are farcical. The locations at which raids will be conducted are announced beforehand. Despite this, there appear to be hundreds of persons who are detained daily. The media is always in attendance to showcase the day’s detainees who are paraded on the evening news. It has all the features of being a drama staged for Tennakoon’s benefit -but with a rather poorly written script.Last week, ‘Yukthiya’ brought to focus a horrendous incident which highlighted Police brutality. This was the killing of an innocent civilian at Narammala. The tragedy also highlighted how the Police attempted to use media to their advantage to distort facts, only to be exposed later by hard evidence.The victim was driving his vehicle when two Policemen, albeit in civilian clothes and not in uniform, signalled him to stop. Not knowing who they were and probably fearing for his safety, he ignored them and proceeded to drive on and stop near a shop in a public area where he believed he would have the protection of being in public. Sadly for him, the Policemen in civilian clothing pursued him- again on a motor bicycle without any Police logo- and proceeded to shoot him dead after he had halted the vehicle.
It was as atrocious as a killing could be! The killer then calmly walks away, asking “He must have died, isn’t it?”.When Police Spokesman Nihal Thalduwa who is a lawyer to boot first told the story he said that a driver had been shot for ignoring Police instructions to stop. Leaving aside the fact that not stopping for a Police signal is not a reason to be shot dead, Thalduwa attempted to paint a picture of a suspect fleeing the Police in a dramatic chase. What the poor man who has to wash Tennakoon’s dirty laundry didn’t know at the time was that a member of the public had captured the incident on video. That person had the courage to release it on social media. Then, the Police spokesman’s lie became obvious.
The question of how two people in civilian clothing pursuing you on an unmarked bicycle becomes a Police pursuit was asked. Tennakoon quickly moved to suppress public anger. He visited the victim’s family and offered them a financial award of one million rupees- in contrast to the four million rupees awarded to a Policeman who was shot dead by another Policeman at Weligama in a case of mistaken identity in an operation linked to ‘Yukthiya’.In public statements since the incident at Narammala, Tennakoon has been defiant. Acknowledging that a mistake was made, he has said that those who cite this as a case of Police brutality are those in the pay of drug dealers who wish to stifle ‘Yukthiya’ and that they will be dealt with in an ‘appropriate’ manner.
Tennakoon is hellbent on pursuing his ‘Yukthiya’ operation despite such incidents. He has the blessings of his minister, Tiran Alles, who is on record saying that he doesn’t worry about alleged abuse of human rights. “They (human rights groups) can issue statements, I will not stop this operation,” he said. Tennakoon has good reason to continue ‘Yukthiya’. His appointment as IGP is only in an ‘acting’ capacity for three months, much of which has lapsed now. He sure is putting on one hell of an act with ‘Yukthiya’. The objective is to impress Alles and Ranil Wickremesinghe and secure his job on a permanent basis.It is known that, at first, Wickremesinghe did not wish to appoint Tennakoon to the post. That is why his predecessor C. D. Wickramaratne was kept in office well past his retirement date until it was no longer possible to extend his services. It was Alles who convinced Wickremesinghe to give Tennakoon a go.
Since then, Tennakoon has blotted his copybook in style, being found guilty of torture and abuse of fundamental rights by the Supreme Court but he hasn’t been stripped of his office by Wickremesinghe, despite his appointment being only in an ‘acting’ capacity. The question then is whether, in just over a month, on February 29, 2024, when Tennakoon’s three-month long appointment is due to end, his services will be extended. That will provide an indication as to how Wickremesinghe wishes to proceed with Tennakoon.The political animal that Wickremesinghe is, he knows only too well that he must face a presidential election by October this year to keep his own job. Would it help him more to have an IGP who simply obeys his political masters and doesn’t care about human rights or even basic decency in the discharge of his duties or would he rather have an IGP who is a committed professional?There are no prizes for guessing as to what Wickremesinghe’s preference would be- although he would have to factor in the public discontent that is brewing against the Police which could eventually create a backlash for himself as well.