Sri Lanka: Eyewitness reveals how young detainee was beaten to death by guards

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe

Prison officials in Sri Lanka used long wooden clubs to beat a young detainee to death, an eyewitness revealed at a court inquiry. The new evidence presents a challenge to authorities who deny the killing.

Two months ago, twenty-five-year-old Kavinda Isuru Tissera was found dead in the Mahara Prison premises. Authorities claimed the young man fell to his death from the prison perimeter wall in a failed attempt to escape. Parents who vehemently reject the official claim allege that their young son was tortured and beaten to death.

The claim by prison authorities was heavily contradicted by another detainee who told the Wattala Magistrate Buddhika C Ragala on 19 June that several jail guards beat Tissera with long clubs known as “tea clubs” and the victim died after the assault.

Soon after the death, the eyewitness had been transferred to a different prison.

Witness silenced

Counsel representing the family allege that the move is an attempt to cover up key evidence.

“When I went to the Polonnaruwa prison to record an affidavit from the detainee who saw Kavinda being beaten up by Mahara prison officials, those in charge told me that they have received an order from the top that the detainee cannot be seen to obtain an affidavit,” Attorney at law Senaka Perera of the Committee to Protect Rights of Prisoners told JDS.

“Consequently, I had to file a motion in the Wattala magistrate court to obtain a statement from the detainee. In the statement to the Magistrate he clearly says that he saw officers beating Kavinda to death with clubs. Due to the significance of the evidence, the magistrate ordered to provide the witness with all the protection.”

Police torture

Kavinda Tissera arrested on 25 April has not been produced in courts for three days. Parents have been told that he was heavily tortured in police detention.

“When I went to the Ragama police station on the 26th and gave him clothes to wear, he put them on with much difficulty,” the victim’s tearful mother R. M Karunawathie told JDS.

“In a while policemen came and took him away in a jeep. My son was walking on the toes of one leg, with a limp on the other. After he was taken, another person who was in the cell with him told me ‘mother, the policemen beat him severely’. After that I didn’t see my son alive.”

Prison officials have told Judicial Medical Officers in the Colombo North general hospital who conducted the autopsy and relatives that Kavinda died after falling off the prison wall while trying to escape. That claim is totally rejected by the parents who have been provided with forensic evidence which undermine the prison official’s version.

“When we went to the Ragama hospital for the autopsy, a lady doctor told us that my son had been starving for three days,” said R.M Karunawathie.

“The same doctor told us that my son’s stomach was empty, and it is hard to believe that such a starving person had scaled a twenty foot wall.”

Parents of Kavinda Tissera were further concerned that they have not received any response from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka on their complaint about the alleged murder of their beloved son.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.