Death in Sri Lanka’s Police custody: Tamil Youth’s body to be exhumed

The body of a young Tamil who was allegedly beaten to death while in Sri Lankan police custody is to be exhumed for a second autopsy.

In ordering the exhumation, a court in Eastern Sri Lanka accepted the contention of the family of the Tamil youth disputing the current official version about the cause of his death.

An earlier autopsy by the Special Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) said he died due to a drug overdose.

Chandran Vithushan (21) died while in police custody after he was brutally assaulted in front of his family members, before being taken to the police station on drug-related offences.

On 18 Friday, the Batticaloa Magistrate ruled that the body of Chandran Vithushan should be exhumed and sent for a second autopsy under the supervision of a leading forensic expert.

“The Magistrate court has delivered a historic judgment today,” lawyer for the family, Kanagaratnam Suhas told journalists outside the court house.

“The court ordered that the body of Vithushan be exhumed and the autopsy be done again in the presence of the professor in Peradeniya University who is considered to be the foremost expert in this field. We welcome this.”

Chandran Vithushan was taken into custody by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on the night of 3rd of June and informed the family of his death the next day morning.

Doubts over earlier report

According to the earlier report of the JMO Arasaratnam Elangovan, the cause of his death was determined due to “swallowing packets containing ‘ice’-a form of the potent stimulant drug Methamphetamine.

“On swallowing four packets containing ‘ice’-which burst in the chest area affected the lungs causing his death was revealed in the autopsy” the JMO said before authorities handed over the body to the family for burial.

"There are injuries such as abrasion, contusion found on body are trivial in nature, but not fatal" the autopsy report further added.

However, the family raised doubts over the claim that he died due to ‘swallowing drugs’ and called it very suspicious. They firmly maintain that his death was a result of police brutality.

His younger sister Caroline Chandran demands the truth to be revealed.

“These people are lying. Justice should be rendered to my elder brother. I will not stop until then. I saw my brother being beaten to death. He was lifted and smashed on the floor and on the wall. Even the wall has cracked. Do they have that much power?”

She also raises apprehension that swallowing of ‘ice’ packets was the cause of his death.

“If he has been handcuffed behind, how could he have swallowed it?......These people are trying to cover up everything. The truth should prevail” she told JDS.

Family traumatised

Chandran Vithushan (21) was picked up from his house in Iruthhayapuram in Batticaloa district and was badly beaten with poles in front of his family, handcuffed to a tree from behind. After being dragged by the CID plainclothes officers he was taken to Batticaloa police station where he died in custody.

The traumatised parents continue to say, “The police beat my son to death”.

Accused of drug related offences, the Police officers are said to have come in search of him and any alleged possession of drugs on him or in his house. Vithushan’s father K Chandran told the local media that no drugs were found in the house by the police when they searched.

“They took hold of him searching for ‘ice’ and unable to find it on him came into the premises to search for it and nothing was found. He was beaten and taken in a vehicle” Mr. Chandran said on the day he was dragged away by the Police.

The family say they tried stopped the police from taking him away unable to bear the torture in front of their eyes and fearing for the worst.

“We struggled a lot and they (CID) didn’t do anything (to stop torturing him). They took him over at 10.30 PM but handed him to the police only at 01.45 AM. Till such time he was beaten. They did all they wanted to do and then handed him over.”

The investigations into his death by a team headed by a senior police officer continues.

Chandran Vithushan’s body is scheduled to be exhumed on Monday (21) in the presence of the Magistrate, the family’s attorney Suhas told journalists in Batticaloa.

Sri Lanka has come under continuous international condemnation for its culture of ‘custodial death and impunity’.

Chandran Vithushan’s death is the 11th recorded death in police custody in just over a year’s time.

Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission (HRSCL) had announced last year that at least eight deaths in police custody between May and October 2020 have been recorded.

This May two young men were shot dead by police within two days.

A month ago, HRCSL had requested the police chief Chandana Wickremeratne to provide a report on inquiries conducted into deaths in police custody.

Almost three months since the deadline on May 30th, the IGP is yet to comply.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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