Sri Lanka’s top criminal investigator insisted that after he was released on bail earlier this week, he did nothing wrong because he was remanded for more than 10 months in a murder case involving a senior police officer.
Shani Abeysekara, a 59-year-old former senior superintendent in charge of the criminal investigation department, is accused of fabricating and concealing evidence in a case against former deputy police inspector Vaas Gunawardena, his son and four other police officers.
The group killed Colombo businessman Mohamed Shiyam on a contract of USD 50,000 in May 2013, was convicted and sentenced to death.
“The truth will prevail,” Abesekara told Al Jazeera. “I am an honest and diligent official. Throughout my career, I have done nothing wrong. This is all I can say.”
Abeysekara’s humble two-bedroom apartment in Colombo is only a few hundred meters from the prison where he was held.
Although he suffered a heart attack and other health problems during his imprisonment, he appeared calm and confident.
“People who live by conscience find it easy to face anything. They know that if they do something wrong, they must face punishment,” he said.
“I will not be punished because I did nothing wrong.”
Court of Appeal dismissed the allegations
Although Gunawadna, who is believed to be closely related to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, admitted to possessing the weapons used to kill the businessman, Abesekara was still under investigation.
A police officer stationed at the DIG residence also testified that he loaded his weapon into the police car on the day the businessman was murdered.
In its June 16 bail order, the Court of Appeal stated that “the accusation against the suspect Shani Abeysekara is the result of forgery and modification, and an afterthought”.
“According to the statements of the apparent supporters and supporters or collaborators of the convicted murderer, the so-called facts have been reported… Chief Justice Bandula Karunarathna (Bandula Karunarathna) and Rath In severely criticizing the police and legal institutions, Ratnapriya Gurusinghe said that they were blatantly trying to frame suspects by forging false evidence.
They added, “However, in the case against Abeysekara, no credible evidence was brought to the attention of the court”.
In response, Attorney General Ali Sabri told Al Jazeera that the Court of Appeal’s order showed “how strong our democracy and the rule of law are, and how independent our judiciary is”.
He said: “Therefore, I can be proud of the way the judiciary acts.”
When asked about the court’s view that the accusation against Abeysekara was false, Sabri said: “The police must consider this observation…As the attorney general, I do not manage the police.”
Sabri said the police should now “find out what was there, and if there is sufficient evidence of the allegations, they must investigate.”
Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana told Al Jazeera that the department “respects the order of the Court of Appeal, and if there are guidelines or recommendations (to be followed), it will take corresponding action”.
During his 34-year career, Abesekara led the investigation of dozens of high-profile cases, many of which involved human rights violations and extrajudicial executions.
Usually, these cases also involve senior members of the government, as well as senior military officers and police. Many people say that when the current president served as defense minister from 2005 to 2015, Gunawardena was protected by Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
During the interrogation, the senior police threatened to kill Abesekara, a crime that resulted in him being sentenced to five years of severe imprisonment.
Touted as one of the most “hard-working” and “honest” officers, these qualities also make Abesekara a suppressed target.
Two days after Rajapaksa took office as president in November 2019, Abesekara was demoted to personal assistant to a higher-level official.
In January 2020, a leaked recording of a phone conversation between Abeysekara and actor and politician Ranjan Ramanayake went viral on the Internet.
During the conversation, it was alleged that Abeysekara’s voice criticized senior police and judicial officials in answering questions raised by Ramanayake.
As the recording went viral on the Internet, the police accused Abesekara of “bringing reputation to the police.” He was suspended.
“Abesekara is not a person who took bribes or deceives. He faces political interference from this government and the previous government,” a human rights lawyer who asked not to be named told Al Jazeera.
“Trying to show that he is biased and assassinating him seems to be part of a larger plan.”
The bail order in favor of Abeysekara was also issued a few days after Sri Lanka was condemned in the European Parliament resolution passed on June 10, in which the European Union “noted with concern the detention of former CID director Shani Abeysekara and urged the government to give the detention immediately Fair trial or unconditional release on valid allegations.”
The resolution passed by 628 of the 705 members of the General Assembly called on the European Commission to consider “temporarily withdrawing” Sri Lanka’s preferential access to the European market. Europe is Sri Lanka’s second largest export market.
At the same time, Abeysekara was determined to clear his name. The Supreme Court has filed two petitions against his arrest and detention to the Supreme Court, but any progress in the case has slowed down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a Buddhist, I don’t hate anyone. I’m not angry,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I work with my conscience. I regard the duty of law enforcement as sacred. But as a result, I was forced to stay away from home, away from my family, away from my children for no reason. This is something I regret.”