Police officer nabbed over disappearance of Sri Lankan held in navy torture site

by Kithsiri Wijesinghe

Sri Lanka police have arrested a police officer accused of abducting a man who disappeared in the aftermath of the war following arbitrary detention in a secret navy torture site.

The officer in charge of the Mirigama police administration unit was arrested recently by the Criminal investigation Department (CID) over an abduction 13 years ago, reports Sinhala newspapers quoting top policemen.

Inspector Saman Kumara Dissanayake had been taken into custody for the alleged abduction and unlawful detention of Ganeralalage Shantha Samaraweera in 2010 July.

A report by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in 2019 brought to light that Samaraweera who went missing was last seen in a secret detention site run by Naval Intelligence, hidden in the jungle-covered hills of the Trincomalee Naval base.

The report looking into the case of 11 males abducted from Colombo and its suburbs in the last years of war published compelling evidence detailing how they were imprisoned and tortured by the navy in the Gunsite detention site – also known as 'Gota’s camp' – before they disappeared.

After comparing eyewitness evidence of victims and insiders as well as court documents, details of two others who were held in Gunsite emerged. One was Shantha Samaraweera of Ekiriyagala, Kegalle. The other, Prageeth Nisansala Vithanarachchi of Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala.

Basnayaka Mudiyanselage Wijayakanth, a navy intelligence operative who was held in Gunsite for almost a year had told CID officers long ago that both were imprisoned with him.

However, Sri Lanka police have not made any arrests of suspects until now.

This may well be the opportunity for police itself to expose a deadly collaboration between police and the military in Sri Lanka’s enforced disappearances.

Nevertheless, authorities are yet to speak of such a link.

The ITJP report ‘The Sri Lankan Navy: Turning a Collective Blind Eye’ had also explored the likelihood of police and navy collusion in an extortion racket.

In July 2010, Shantha Samaraweera’s elder sister, Lalitha Jayasinghe, had lodged a complaint with the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) of her brother’s disappearance. He had been arrested by Alawwa police on 22 Jul 2010. The family had visited the police station on the 25th – a Sunday - with Attorney at law Chula Ranjeewa Adhikari. Police, who initially denied that Shantha is not in their custody, later produced him after the lawyer intervened. Police had told Lalitha Jayasinghe that her brother will be produced in court on Monday.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

“Later we got a message that he was admitted to hospital for a headache. When we went to hospital, they said that my brother escaped through a window in the toilet. We checked on 28th of July whether he would be produced in court. He was neither in the police station nor was he produced in court.”

Lalitha Jayasinghe who sought the help of SLHRC was left helpless.

“We went for inquiries at the Commission several times. Every time they were partial to the police.”

JDS is unaware of any reports by the SLHRC on their investigation into the disappearance of Shantha Samaraweera.

Sri Lanka’s most decorated naval officer Fleet Admiral Wasantha Jayadeva Karannagoda is a key suspect in the case of abduction, arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance of the 11 males held in Gunsite in 2008-9.

In 2021, Sri Lanka’s Appeals Court has accordingly issued an interim order against hearing the charges levelled against him.

The police officer who led the investigations on arbitrary detention and torture in Gunsite fled the country in 2019.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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