Sri Lanka’s top criminal investigator insists he did nothing wrong after being released on bail earlier this week after more than 10 months in pre-trial detention in a murder case in which a senior officer police were involved.
Shani Abeysekara, 59, the former chief superintendent of police who headed the Criminal Investigation Department, is accused of fabricating and concealing evidence in the case against former Deputy Inspector General of Police Vaas Gunawardena, his son and four other policemen.
The group was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of Colombo businessman Mohamed Shiyam as contract murder for $ 50,000 in May 2013.
“The truth will prevail,” Abeysekara told Al Jazeera. “I am an honest and hardworking officer. In my entire career, I haven’t done any wrongdoing, that’s all I can say.
Abeysekara’s modest two-bedroom apartment in Colombo is only a few hundred meters from the prison where he was held.
He appeared calm and confident, despite having a heart attack during his imprisonment, coupled with other health issues.
“People who live by their conscience find it not difficult to face anything. They know that if they do something wrong, they have to face the punishment, ”he said.
“I won’t have to take punishment for not doing anything wrong.”
Court of Appeal rejects allegations
Abeysekara has been investigated despite the fact that Gunawardena, considered close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, admitted to possessing the weapons which were used to kill the businessman.
A police officer stationed at the DIG residence also testified that he loaded the weapons into the officer’s vehicle on the day of the businessman’s murder.
The Court of Appeal, in its June 16 bail order, said that “the allegations against suspect Shani Abeysekara are the result of forgeries and embellishments and an afterthought.”
“According to statements by supporters and supporters or apparent collaborators of the convicted murderers, alleged facts have been reported…. against the suspect in a blatant attempt to formulate allegations by fabricating false evidence, ”Judges Bandula Karunarathna and Ratnapriya Gurusinghe said in a scathing criticism of the police and the judiciary.
“However, no credible evidence was brought to the attention of the tribunal” in the case against Abeysekara, they added.
In response, Justice Minister Ali Sabry told Al Jazeera that the Court of Appeal’s order shows “exactly how strong our democracy and the rule of law are and how independent our judicial system is. “.
“So I can be proud of the justice system and the way it acted,” he said.
Asked about the court’s opinion that the allegations against Abeysekara were false, Sabry said: “The sighting must be taken into consideration by the police… As Minister of Justice, I am not in charge of the police. “
Sabry said police should now “find out what is there and if there is sufficient evidence for the allegations, an investigation should be initiated.”
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana told Al Jazeera the department “is following the Court of Appeal’s order and will take action accordingly if there are any guidelines or recommendations (to be followed) “.
During his 34-year career, Abeysekara had investigated dozens of high-profile cases, many of which involved human rights violations and extrajudicial killings.
Often, cases also involved senior government officials and high-ranking military and police officers. Many say Gunawardena was protected by Gotabaya Rajapaksa when the outgoing president was Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2015.
The senior police official threatened Abeysekara with death during his questioning, an offense which earned him five years in prison.
Presented as one of the most “diligent” and “honest” officers, these qualities also made Abeysekara a target to be silenced.
Two days after Rajapaksa took office as president in November 2019, Abeysekara was demoted to the role of personal assistant to a senior officer.
In January 2020, leaked recordings of a telephone conversation between Abeysekara and actor-politician Ranjan Ramanayake went viral.
During the conversation, Abeysekara’s alleged voice criticizes senior police and justice officers in response to questions posed by Ramanayake.
As the recording went viral, police accused Abeysekara of “bringing the police into disrepute.” He was suspended from his duties.
“Abeysekara was not someone who took bribes or cheated. He faced political interference from this government and the last, ”a human rights lawyer told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
“The attempts to show he was biased and the assassination of his character seems to be part of a bigger plan.”
The bail order for Abeysekara also came days after Sri Lanka was censored in a June 10 resolution passed by the European Parliament, in which the bloc “noted with concern the detention of former CID director Shani Abeysekara and urged the government to a fair trial on valid charges or to release them unconditionally ”.
The resolution adopted by 628 of the 705 members of the assembly called on the European Commission to consider the “temporary withdrawal” of Sri Lanka’s preferential access to European markets. Europe is Sri Lanka’s second largest export market.
Abeysekara, meanwhile, is determined to clear his name. Two petitions against his arrest and detention have been filed with the Supreme Court, but any progress in the case has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a Buddhist, I don’t hate anyone. I’m not angry, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“I worked faithfully on my conscience. I considered my law enforcement duties to be sacred. But as a result, I was forced to stay away from home, away from my family, my children for no reason. This is something I regret.