Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
Days of the demons in Deraniyagala
The consequences of seriously damaging if not destroying the independence of judicial service and the breakdown of the rule of law are now seen in various parts of the country. The anarchy is likely to worsen when a furious campaign gets into full gear for elections to the Northern, North-Central and Central Provinces.
The lawlessness or the reign of terror by political thugs and goons has reached the proportions of a horror story for the people in the infamous Noori, a 1000 acre tea estate some 15 km from Deraniyagala. The people and the workers have been engulfed in this reign of terror for about 15 years though there has been some relief after the arrest and remand of the Deraniyagala Pradeshiya Sabha’s former chairman Anil Champika alias ‘Atha Kota’ and 20 others following the slaying of Estate Superintendent Nihal Perera.
For more than 15 years this political ‘Atha Kota’ has allegedly being involved in a series of killings, rapes and gang rapes and the illegal felling of trees belonging to Noori Estate, adjoining forest reserves and even in privately owned lands. He is also alleged to have been involved in demanding ransom, assaulting people and even attacking police officers or public servants who did not take orders from him. If proof is needed of the politicisation of crime and the criminalisation of politics then Noori Estate provides it in full measure. With the police being handcuffed by the politicians and being unwilling or unable to act effectively and independently and with the undermining of the courts of law, Sri Lanka appears to be more like a dictatorship than a democracy. Legendary pioneers of democracy have said they believed that if the government is afraid of the people then democracy is vibrantly alive. But if the people are afraid of the government, then democracy is dying or dead.
Getting back to Deraniyagala, a senior police officer from outside the area is alleged to be interfering with the ongoing investigations and is tampering with vital evidence as revealed in the media in recent weeks. He is also alleged to be trying to show that media reports were either baseless or lacked substance. The villagers in and around the area say they have again been plunged into fear, worry and tension after this traffic OIC attached who roared in from Avissawella had tried to undermine the major media revelations related to gang rapes and killings. Villagers and investigative reporters have found that the notorious ‘Atha Kota’ has been actively supporting Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Mahipala Herath, apparently to intimidate people and show how much power he has.
With little hope and no one to turn to, thousands of people in the area yesterday risked their lives to stage a public demonstration. They demanded that the Police Special Task Force -- which was rushed to the area in the aftermath of the killing of the estate superintendent -- be kept in Deraniyagala because only the STF appears to have the power and the independence to tackle the political thuggery.
The people who have become victims of the complete breakdown of law and order with crooked police officers even refusing to hear their complaints against political thugs have now apparently decided that enough is enough. If they cannot get justice from the police and political leaders then they have no option but to resort to street justice which in itself is a dangerous trend.
If the police in the area are claiming they have no evidence to indict ‘Atha Kota’ for the killing of the Estate Chief, the Attorney’s General Department or even President Mahinda Rajapaksa must intervene to stop this mayhem in Deraniyagala.