In a shocking turn of events, legal professionals and academics in Sri Lanka have issued an open letter to the President, urging immediate action following a landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of Sumangala v Bandara and Others (SCFR 107/2011). The three-judge bench unanimously ruled that Respondents, including Acting IGP Deshabandu Tennakoon, violated fundamental rights by engaging in torture, unlawful arrest, and arbitrary administrative actions.
The Court emphasized that such actions undermined core values of the Rule of Law and Democracy, implicating the State’s obligations under international law applicable in Sri Lanka. The gravity of the violations is underscored by the fact that the right to freedom from torture is considered one of the most severe breaches in constitutional law and international treaties.
Deshabandu Tennakoon, the Acting IGP, previously served as the SP Nugegoda and was proven to have participated in acts of torture and illegal arrest. The petitioners described horrifying incidents, including the use of chili powder to suffocate, stripping naked, and beating in front of family members. The Court imposed heavy compensation and called for disciplinary action by the State.
Legal experts point out that the officers, including Tennakoon, could face criminal charges under the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No. 22 of 1994. They are urging the immediate suspension of all implicated police officers pending formal charges.
The open letter to the President emphasizes that failure to act promptly could legitimize the idea that individuals found responsible for heinous crimes can still hold high public office. It calls for the termination of Tennakoon’s appointment as Acting IGP, the referral of the judgment to the Attorney General for the consideration of criminal charges, and action by the National Police Commission for disciplinary measures.
Criticism extends beyond the legal realm, with concerns raised about the government’s commitment to the rule of law. Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles has faced backlash for endorsing Tennakoon’s leadership amid the serious allegations, as well as making statements that appear to condone extrajudicial violence.
The letter concludes with a plea for the President to recognize the national importance of the issue and take immediate action to reinforce public confidence in the administration of justice. It emphasizes that the silence in the media and civil society regarding the Supreme Court judgment indicates a chilling effect on citizen engagement with public concerns in Sri Lanka.