Sri Lanka’s top killer cop, son get death penalty

ECONOMYNEXT, Sri Lanka’s one-time super cop and darling of the former administration, deputy inspector general Vaas Gunawardena and his son were condemned to death after they were found guilty of a 2013 killing.

The father-son duo along with four other policemen were convicted for the abduction and murder of businessman Mohamed Shiyam sometime between April and May 2013 at a time when "white vans" had a free run abducting people.

Extra judicial killings were rife at the time and the authorities turned a blind eye to abductions carried out using ubiquitous white vans, but the Shiyam case was a chance investigation after CCTV footage showed his abduction.

Gunawardena’s son Ravindu, who was already the subject of a previous abduction and assault of a fellow student Nipuna Ramanayake in 2009. In that case, Gunawardena’s wife was also accused of beating the student.

The three-judge bench of the Colombo High Court on Friday read out a 802-page judgement holding Vaas Gunawardena guilty of killing Mohamed Shiyam in return for 10 million rupees ($71,000) from a business rival.

Gunawardena becomes the highest-ranking officer to be convicted of murder.

His role in the murder was discovered when CCTV footage showed Shiyam being taken away in a vehicle of Gunawardena. His son was among several policemen in abducting Shiyam. All of them were sentenced to death.

Sri Lanka’s security forces regularly kidnapped and killed opponents during the island’s ethnic war, a practice that continued after the conflict ended in 2009.

The practice was so well-known that people began referring to it as being "white-vanned", after the vehicles used to abduct victims.

White vans

Former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the local media this month that forces under his command arrested the leader of the Frontline Socialist Party  Premakumar Gunaratnam in April 2012 although at the time it was an unsolved "white van" abduction.

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Gunaratnam was freed by his abductors following intense international pressure, including Australia, his adopted country. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s admission that he had instigated the "arrest" of Gunaratnam underscored the military’s involvement of extra judicial abductions carried by the former regime.

Former president Mahinda Rajapakse and his administration faced international censure over their failure to ensure accountability for extrajudicial killings carried out by security forces and the police.

Rajapakse, who was ousted in a January election, has denied his son was involved in the controversial murder of a rugby player in May 2012.

Police had initially dismissed the death of national rugby skipper Wasim Thajudeen as the result of a road accident, but following the change of government, police have reopened the case and launched a murder investigation.

The Rajapakse government always denied any involvement in the abductions. (COLOMBO, Nov 27, 2015)

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