Illegal arrest, detention and torture of an autistic child allegedly by some police officers acting under the direction of the OIC of Aluthgama Police Station

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The complainant is a 55-year-old single father, and sole caregiver to a son aged 16 years diagnosed as autistic. He works for a small grocery store and earns his wage on a daily basis. He lives alone with his son in a house for rent in Dharga Town. He makes this appeal as the guardian and on behalf of a minor who also is also diagnosed as autistic. Thariq is unable to speak and articulate his needs, and/or describe events with the use of language.

On or about 25th of May 2020, during the curfew, Thariq left home on a bicycle unknown to his father, as was his usual practice prior to the COVID-19 related restrictions. The restriction of movement was a strain on Thariq’s well being and he may have decided to ride his bicycle which was part of a usual routine.

At around 4.00 or 5.00 pm, while riding his bicycle, Thariq fell near a small fish stall situated directly opposite the police checkpoint at the Ambagaha Junction, Dharga Town. Several uniformed police officers believed to be attached to the Aluthgama Police Station and / or under the direction of the Officer in Charge of the Aluthgama Police Station approached Thariq, restrained him, forced him across the road, forcibly pushed him around, manhandled and assaulted him. Thariq’s hands were tied together using rope. The complainant also states that he noticed bruises, and injuries on Thariq’s face, hands and legs.

The complainant states he proceeded to the Aluthgama Police Station, with the intention of lodging a complaint against the police officers at the Ambagaha Handiya checkpoint. On arrival at the station, the complainant showed the police officers the bruises, wounds and/or injuries the police officers at the Ambagaha Handiya checkpoint had caused to his son’s body. Rather than recording the complaint, the police officers of the Aluthgama Police Station accused the complainant and Thariq of violating the law by leaving home during curfew, and once again threatened to put Thariq in lock up for purportedly violating curfew.
The complainant explained to the police officers that his son was autistic and that he was not conscious of nor comprehended movement restrictions in the form of curfew nor did he understand the gravity of context of the health crisis or pandemic. He also informed them that his son could not respond to questions at all, and that he was a patient. Thereafter, the police officers at the station had permitted the 1st Petitioner to make a statement to the police, and to take his son back home. The complainant states that the police officer taking down his statement did not assist him to understand what had been written down and merely required him to sign the statement. Thereafter they left the police station.

On the same day at around 10:00pm, the complainant together with his son, and a friend and neighbor by the name of Yatheer, met the Officer in Charge of the Aluthgama Police Station, at his request, at the Police Station. The complainant showed the OIC the bruises and injuries his son had sustained. The OIC asked the complainant what was expected of him, to which the complainant replied that he wanted action to be taken against the perpetrators who assaulted, harassed and illegally detained his son. The OIC had then asked them to return home, and promised to inform the complainant about this matter later.

On or about 26th of May 2020, a police officer arrived at the complainant’s residence in the afternoon and informed him that the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) had requested a meeting with them. The complainant accompanied the said police officer to the Kalutara Office of the Superintendent of Police, met with the ASP and recorded a statement in his presence relating to the events of 25th of May 2020.

On or about the 27th of May 2020, the complainant admitted his son at the Kalutara-Nagoda General Hospital to obtain treatment for his injuries. However, they returned home on the same day, as it became increasingly difficult to keep Thariq at the hospital premises.

On or about 30th of May 2020, the complainant received a call from the ASP directing the complainant to have his son undergo a medical examination at the Kalutara-Nagoda General Hospital. They visited the Kalutara-Nagoda General Hospital on the same day, and a Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) examined his son. The JMO acted most unprofessionally and in a threatening manner by humiliating the complainant and his son and demeaning them by making religious or ethnically motivated discriminatory accusations. The JMO’s incendiary remarks included “Why did you bring the boy here? You should have taken him to Angoda! (National Mental Health Institution)”, “These people eat beef; and it is because of them that we have to cover our faces now.” (Insinuating that the complainant belongs to a race of people who are vectors of the COVID-19 virus), “We also saw how you fasted…”(insinuating that the obligatory religious practice of refraining from food and water during the day, during the month of Ramadan was not observed by the community that the complainant belonged to, believed to be meant as insult or discrediting of good faith).

The Police officers who had accompanied the complainant and his son to the hospital removed them from the vicinity of the JMO. They returned to the JMO’s office to obtain the 2nd Petitioner’s medical records. A neighbor who accompanied the complainant, who was outside the JMO’s room, overheard a conversation between the police officers and the JMO. During this conversation, the JMO informed the police officers that he would state that the boy had not taken his necessary medication (which was essential for his mental condition) for several years in his medical report, as that would purportedly justify the violence directed towards Thariq by the police officers.
On the same day, the complainant was directed to Ward No. 27 and was referred to a psychiatrist, Dr. Basnayake, who was familiar with Thariq’s medical history, as he had treated him for several years.

The complainant also states that in Magistrate Court case bearing number B11290/20, which was purportedly investigating the incident of ill treatment of Thariq, the Women and Children’s Bureau of the Police made an application that Thariq be taken into the custody of the Probation Service on the basis that he is unsafe or cannot be adequately cared for by his father, the complainant. The Magistrate denied the application. The threat to the security, safety and well-being of Thariq in attempting to take him away from his father’s care is of serious concern.

Despite complaints being filed with the National Child Protection Authority, the Women and Children’s Bureau of the Sri Lanka Police, and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. as well as Thariq being examined by a Judicial Medical Officer, adequate measures have not been adopted to address such complaints. The complainant is aware from media reports that the three police officers involved in the incident on the 25th of May 2020 have had their service suspended. However, it appears that their services were not suspended for reasons of the complaint against them regarding their treatment of Thariq, but for the failure ‘to carry out their duties’ on that day. To date no disciplinary or criminal action has been instituted against the police officers who assaulted, harassed and illegally detained Thariq.

We urge you to send letters to Sri Lankan Authorities named below urging immediate inquiry into the matter and to prosecute the alleged perpetrators under CAT act of Sri Lanka, Act Number 22 of 1994. We also urged that the child victim and his family be provided with protection.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

The AHRC calls for quick and stringent action by the Sri Lankan authorities and intervene in this case promptly. The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear ___________,

SRI LANKA: Illegal arrest, detention and torture of an autistic child allegedly by some police officers acting under the direction of the OIC of Aluthgama Police Station

Name of victims: Mohammed Baseer Thariq Ahmed
Name of alleged perpetrators: Some Police officers attached to Aluthgama Police Station acting under the direction of the officer in charge
Date of incident: On or about 25th of May 2020
Place of incident: Aluthgama Police Station, Sri Lanka

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding an autistic child of 15 years of age who was illegally arrested, detained and tortured by group of police officers who were acting under the direction of the OIC of the Aluthgama police station. Apparently there was no reason at all for the arrest and the detention. In any case under the constitution, torture and ill treatment are absolutely prohibited. Under the CAT act No. 22 of 1994 torture and ill treatment are recognize as a serious crime in Sri Lanka.

Despite of all those legal provisions, victims of torture and ill treatment before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka have filed hundreds of cases. In over hundred twenty cases decided by the Supreme Court in recent times, the Supreme Court had held in favor of victims holding many police officers as having violated rights of the citizens by acts of torture and ill-treatment. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka also noted that there seems to be no improvement in stopping these attacks on human dignity. The Supreme Court has made many recommendations to the Inspector General of Police and successive Governments to improve monitoring of police stations to prevent torture and ill-treatment and even suggested that educational on Law relating to torture and Ill-treatment should be included in all education and training programs for the police, Military and public service. These recommendations of the Supreme Court should be implemented.

Besides the Supreme Court cases, there is also evidence of thousands of cases of torture and ill treatment recorded and published by the Human Rights organizations. What is most remarkable is that most cases of torture and ill treatment have been done for very trivial reasons. The victims are almost always persons belonging to low-income groups, particularly the young. This demonstrates that torture and ill treatment in Sri Lanka is due to a system failure affecting the policing system.

I urge that a thorough inquiry should be held into the case of Mohammed Baseer Thariq Ahmed, and the perpetrator should be identified and prosecuted. The child and the family should be provided with protection. Besides the child victim needs to be given the opportunities for medical and psychological treatment.

I look forward to your prompt action in this matter.

Yours Sincerely,

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