By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody –
The trial-at-bar into the abduction, gang rape and murder of a 17-year-old schoolgirl in Pungudutivu in Jaffna on 2015 May 13, commenced for the second week on July 3 at the Jaffna High Court.
The first ever trial-at-bar in Jaffna began on June 28. The bench includes High Court Judges, B. Sasi Mahendran (President of the panel), M. Ellencheliyan and A. Premashankar.
Of those arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department in relation to the case, the nine who have been indicted on many counts including on charges of plotting, abduction, rape, murder, aiding and abetting, and unlawful assembly amongst other such offences include P. Indrakumar alias Sinnaraja (first respondent), P. Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar alias Ravi (second respondent), P. Thawakkumar alias Sendil (third respondent), Mahalingam Shashidaran alias Shashi (fourth respondent), T. Chandrakanth/Chandrabasan alias Chandra (fifth respondent), Sivadevan Kushanthan alias Periyathambi (sixth respondent), P.R. Kuganathan alias Sishanthan (seventh respondent), Jayadaran Kokilan/Kogulan alias Karu/Kannan (eighth respondent) and Mahalingam Shashikumar alias Swiss Kumar (ninth respondent). The third respondent, Thawakkumar aka Sendil is the second respondent, Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar aka Ravi’s brother.
While Senior Additional Solicitor General President’s Counsel Dappula de Livera, who is currently the Acting Attorney General, delivered the opening statement for the prosecution on June 28, Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) P. Kumararatnam conducted the examination-in-chief and was assisted by Temporary Acting State Counsels Nishanth Nagaratnam and Jayalakshi de Silva, and Attorney-at-Law attached to the Attorney General’s Department, Madini Vigneswaran.
The first, second, third, fifth and sixth respondents are represented by two lawyers (Mahinda Jayaratne and Suranga Balasinghe), the fifth by another (Arumugam Ragupathipillai), the fourth, seventh, eight and ninth by yet another (Sinnarasa Kedeswaran). All nine respondents are also represented by a State appointed attorney (Wignaraja Jayantha).
Previously, the State revealed that the said gang rape and murder had not only been premeditated but also involved an international racket pertaining to the sale of actual rape porn. The video of the said gang rape by four of the accused has since been sold to a foreigner. Also, an attempted cover-up of the subsequent investigation by ninth respondent and mastermind of this criminal enterprise, Shashikumar alias Swiss Kumar by way of attempting to bribe the Police also came to light during the proceedings. During the first week of hearings, the deceased’s mother highlighted Police apathy she had to face when searching for her daughter prior to discovering her body with the help of a three-wheeler driver, and later Udayasuriyan Sureshkaran, a friend of sixth respondent, Kushanthan alias Periyathambi, now turned State witness, in his evidence revealed that Periyathambi had paid another to abduct the girl.
During the trial hearing on June 30, Pungudutivu resident, Nadarajah Puwaneswaran alias Maapillay, claiming to have been an eyewitness to the gang rape, giving evidence, stated that following the abduction of the girl, four of the accused had forcibly taken her to an abandoned house and taken turns raping her, a crime which they had videoed, and had subsequently given the footage of the gang rape to ninth respondent, Shashikumar alias Swiss Kumar.
According to Puwaneswaran, he had not confessed to what he had seen to the Police due to the fact that the accused criminals involved in the gang rape wielded monetary power and because they also closely associated Police personnel attached to the Kayts Police. He also testified that in the aftermath of the crime, he had been threatened over the phone occasionally to refrain from informing of such to anyone. He further added that not only had he been introduced to ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar by sixth respondent, Kushanthan aka Periyathambi but that Periyathambi had told him that the video of the gang rape had been taken for Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar to take with him overseas.
When the trial commenced for the second week, Gnaneswaran Illankeswaran, a resident in the area close to the deceased’s home, gave evidence.
Illankeswaran stated that a couple of days prior to the abduction, gang rape and killing of the girl, ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar along with five others including three of the respondents (fourth respondent, Shashidaran alias Shashi, fifth respondent, Chandrakanth /Chandrabasan alias Chandra and eighth respondent, Jayadaran Kokilan/Kogulan alias Karu/Kannan) had come in a vehicle and had been looking at the girl in question. Ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar had according to the said witness been wearing sunglasses at the time.
The witness, Illankeswaran had further stated thus,
‘On 2015 May 12, I went to the Aladi Junction to bring some goods needed at home, however because people were there in the shop, I had to wait for about half an hour. Then, the girl, dressed in a Punjabi dress got down from a bus and got on to her bicycle which was parked there and left. At that time, on the road ahead, a Dolphin type van was parked. The ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar was seated in the front seat wearing sunglasses. Fourth respondent, Shashidaran alias Shashi, fifth respondent, Chandrakanth/Chandrabasan alias Chandra and eighth respondent, Jayadaran Kokilan/Kogulan alias Karu/Kannan were also seated. There were two others whom I did not know. All got down from and out of the vehicle and watched the girl take the bicycle and leave.’
The attorney-at-law representing the fourth, seventh, eight and ninth respondents had then queried from the witness as to how far from where he was had the said vehicle been parked, to which the witness replied as being 15 feet ahead. The said defence counsel then questioned the witness as to how he could see someone wearing dark glasses from such a distance. The witness replied that he was certain that it was them and that they had been looking intently and intensely at the girl.
Then it was witness, Selvarasa Sadanandaroopini’s turn to give evidence. She stated that on 2015 May 13, she had been cycling to her workplace, the Valaichchenai Divisional Secretariat office, between 7.30 a.m. and 8 a.m., when at a certain point in her route, she had seen fifth respondent, Chandrakanth/Chandrabasan alias Chandra wearing a sarong, walking briskly along a footpath at a distance where he could hear if he had been addressed as “Malli (brother)”. The fifth respondent, Chandrakanth/Chandrabasan aka Chandra had according to the witness walked a distance of 200 metres (m) away from the road. On 2015 May 14, upon hearing the news that the girl’s body had been found, she and 10 other neighbours had gone to the location. As per the witness’s testimony, fifth respondent Chandrakanth/Chandrabasan aka Chandra too had come to the site and left after staying for 10 minutes.
On the same day, a 13-year-old schoolboy, a resident of Pungudutivu and a student at the Pungudutivu Maha Vidyalaya gave evidence. However, whilst in the midst of giving evidence, he suddenly stated that he felt ill and subsequently fainted. However, he commenced his testimony 10 minutes afterwards. He had heard cries from a certain location when he was cycling with a friend at the time. The teenager had also attested to seeing second respondent, Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar aka Ravi, known to the boy as Ravi Uncle/Uncle Ravi, alongside the road in the same vicinity from where the cries were coming from.
The minor in his evidence had further stated that on 2015 May 13 he was on the way to school on one of his classmates, Dhanujan’s bicycle which Dhanujan had ridden and in which he was seated in the back. According to him, near the Punchi/Small Aladi Junction, one of Dhanujan’s slippers had fallen, and the duo had subsequently parked the bicycle ahead and run back to get the slipper. He added that, ‘We then heard a sound akin to a groan and a moan (“mmmm”). I initially got scared thinking that it was the sound of a ghost. When we turned back and looked, Ravi Uncle (the second respondent, Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar alias Ravi) was there near an Araliya (Frangipani) tree. He was wearing a yellow coloured t-shirt. Because we felt scared, we ran to school.’
A couple of days afterwards, when the school Principal had queried from him as to whether he had seen anything on the said day on the way to school, the boy had told him that he had heard a groan and a moan akin to “mmmm”.
Dhanujan’s testimony followed.
Next, it was Balachandran Balachandran’s, a close relation of the deceased, turn to give evidence. The second respondent, Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar aka Ravi is Balachandran’s sister’s husband.
Balachandran had on 2015 May 13, on the way to work (in a shop), at about 8.45 a.m. seen the second respondent, Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar alias Ravi and third respondent, Thawakkumar alias Sendil standing about 15m away from near the site where the girl’s body was found.
Meanwhile, also on the day, the Kayts Magistrate’s Court handed over several reports pertaining to the murder including a deoxyribonucleic acid report and a report by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the Faculty of Information Technology of the University of Moratuwa to the three-member bench of High Court Judges.
Elsewhere, the panel of Judges permitted a request by the State prosecutor to amend the list of witnesses and Court productions. Thus, Inspector attached to the Jaffna Police Headquarters (HQ) at the time of the incident, Ranjith Balasooriya and another Police officer were added as witnesses.
When the case was taken up on July 4, it was former Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, V.T. Thamilmaran’s turn on the witness stand. Incumbent Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public and International Law of the University of Colombo, Thamilmaran, hails from Pungudutivu.
His involvement in the matter stems from when according to him, he had on 2015 May 15, the day following the discovery of the girl’s body, spoken to then Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of the Northern Province, Lalith Jayasinghe about the incident and the situation that had arisen as a result. Thamilmaran had requested Jayasinghe to take action in this regard. Due to exams being held for undergraduates of the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, he had only managed to go to Jaffna on the night of 2015 May 17, after which on 2015 May 18 he had visited the Jaffna DIG’s office at about 9 a.m., where Jayasinghe and another DIG had been present.
He further stated, ‘I queried from the Senior DIG as to why a suspect in the murder, ninth respondent, Shashikumar alias Swiss Kumar, who is the mastermind of this crime, had not been arrested yet. The Senior DIG then informed that all suspects had been caught. He informed an officer to bring a list of names of the group of suspects. The said list did not contain the name of ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar. I told the Senior DIG that ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar’s name was not on the list. I also spoke about the situation in Pungudutivu and that such incidents should not be allowed to recur, and the requirement of and for the establishment of a sub-Police station in the said area.’
According to Thamilmaran’s testimony he had then got ready to leave to Pungudutivu to arrange a meeting between the people of Pungudutivu and the Police. He continued, ‘the Senior DIG then told me to take Sub-Inspector (SI) attached to the Jaffna Police HQ, Srigajan and another Police officer, dressed in civics, in civilian clothing, along with me. I went with them to Pungudutivu and met the people with them. We received information that there were two students who knew about the incident. After finding out about the said students, we went to the Pungudutivu Maha Vidyalaya and met the school Principal and the latter informed that the two students in question had not come to school since 2015 May 13. While I was talking to the Principal, Srigajan was speaking to someone over the phone. When I went to talk to Srigajan, he informed me that the main suspect in the case was ready to surrender to the Police if Police protection would be provided. I said that a Police vehicle should quickly be brought and that the said suspect should be handed over to the Police. Srigajan then said that it would be unwise to take the said suspect in a Police vehicle, and instead suggested that we take him in our vehicle, a proposition to which I agreed. When we went there, ninth respondent, Shashikumar alias Swiss Kumar’s family came forward. Since there were four persons in the vehicle (including Thamilmaran’s daughter), there was not enough room. Because the other vehicle was getting late, I dropped off my daughter at the Sarvodaya in Pungudutivu and came back. Ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar, his wife, his child and his mother-in-law got into the vehicle. They were handed over to the Jaffna Police HQ. I then went to the said Sarvodaya building.’
Based on a proposal made by Thamilmaran to Jayasinghe regarding conducting a public awareness programme in relation to reducing crime, on 2015 May 19 there had been a meeting between the Pungudutivu residents and the Police. In the beginning, there had only been 40 to 50 residents, a number which had later swelled to 200 to 300.
Thamilmaran further said, ‘I said that a Police checkpoint would be established in Pungudutivu and that the support of the general public was needed to curtail crimes. Then one of the members of the public said that ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar was in Wellawatte. He asked how this had happened. The people shouted that it was I who was responsible. It was then that I came to know that ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar had been released. Until the latter surrendered, I did not know who he was. I asked Jayasinghe as to why this was the case. Jayasinghe told me that he had been released due to the absolute lack of evidence. Then the place erupted in chaos. The people would not let us leave. They kept me hostage. Jayasinghe somehow managed to get me to the Naval base camp in Kayts. On 2015 May 20, me and my daughter came to Jayasinghe’s house and with the protection he provided came to Vavuniya. I then came to Colombo in my vehicle.’
President of the trial-at-bar, Judge Sasi Mahendran then questioned the witness as to whether he did not as an attorney know that a suspect wanted by the Police could not be brought in a private individual’s vehicle, to which Thamilmaran replied that he had complied with a request made by the Police. The panel of Judges had then queried as to why the suspect had been handed over to the Jaffna Police when the Pungudutivu Police came under the jurisdiction of the Kayts division, to which the witness had stated that the two Police officers who accompanied him were attached to the Jaffna Police and since the suspect had surrendered to them, he had been taken to Jaffna.
Then it was former Chief Inspector of the Kayts Police HQ, Quintus Perera’s turn on the witness stand. He stated that it was once he came back to work on 2015 May 13 after being on holiday that the deceased’s mother had lodged a complaint at around 8.40 p.m. that her daughter who had left for school on the day had not arrived back home.
The witness added,
‘I handed over the investigation to a Police team headed by SI Anosius.
In the early morning of 2015 May 14, we received information via the 119 hotline that there was a girl’s body near the Aladi Junction in Pungudutivu. I informed of such to the Police station. The distance between the Kayts Police and the Aladi Junction is about 22 kilometres. The body was 200m inwards from the Aladi Junction. There was only a gravel path to go to the area which was devoid of human habitation. The said road is also called the Vallavan Road. When we went there, officers including the officer-in-charge of the Kurikadduwan checkpoint which comes under our Police station were already there. The deceased’s mother and brother and villagers were there.
About 10m to 15m from where the body was, we found one of the girl’s shoes. Passing where we found the shoe, we went to where the body had been found. About eight metres away from the body, the other shoe was found. It had rained in the area the day before.
Afterwards, we informed the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO), the Kayts Magistrate and the Inquirer into Sudden Deaths. They came and lifted the white cloth covering the body and conducted examinations.
The girl’s legs had been stretched 180 degrees to the side and tied to two trees. Her face and body was swollen. There was something smeared on her eyes, genitalia and chest area. There were ants swarming on and over her. The hair of her scalp which had been brushed, keeping a middle parting, had turned blue. The ribbon used in tying her hair had been used to tie her hands behind her back. The hair had been pulled and tied to a tree. Next to her body, her schoolbag, bicycle and umbrella were found. (It is also reported that the deceased’s torn school uniform and tie had also been found from near the body).
The body was then taken to the Jaffna Hospital for the post-mortem examination.
Subsequently, Police Constable Gopi who spoke Tamil recorded a statement from the girl’s mother. Based on the mother’s statement, on the evening of 2015 May 14, we arrested Pungudutivu residents, first respondent, Indrakumar alias Sinnaraja, second respondent, Vijayakumar/Jeyakumar alias Ravi and third respondent, Thawakkumar alias Sendil. When we searched their houses, we found a yellow and black coloured t-shirt. There were bloodstains behind the t-shirt and also mud. When we searched third respondent, Thawakkumar aka Sendil’s house, a stained t-shirt was found. The trio of suspects was then produced before the Kayts Magistrate’s Court on 2015 May 15.
The deceased’s last rites were conducted on the same day. The area’s schools and shops were closed on the day and the students and the people came out on to the streets and protested. There were two such protests and as a result there was a heated situation in the area.
At this juncture, I received information about five others who were allegedly involved in the murder. Acting on such, we arrested fourth respondent, Shashidaran alias Shashi, fifth respondent, Chandrakanth/Chandrabasan alias Chandra, sixth respondent, Kushanthan alias Periyathambi, seventh respondent, Kuganathan alias Sishanthan and eighth respondent, Jayadaran Kokilan/Kogulan alias Karu/Kannan on 2015 May 17.
The five suspects were taken to the Kurikadduwan Police checkpoint and statements were recorded from them. At that point, the villagers armed with wooden sticks and poles came and surrounded the Police checkpoint. The people shouted stating that the suspects should be handed over to them and that they wanted to kill them. Therefore, I coordinated with the Commanding Officer of the Karainagar Naval camp and with his assistance attempted to have a high speed boat (water jet) brought and to then take the suspects in it to the Kayts Police HQ. By then I had however received news that the villagers had surrounded the Kayts Police. Therefore, the suspects were quickly taken to the Karainagar Naval camp and from there with the assistance of the Wadukkodei Police taken to the Jaffna Police HQ. Statements from the suspects were recorded there.
On 2015 May 18, I left to give evidence in another case at a Court in Maharagama. On 2015 May 20, a SI attached to our Police station informed me that ninth respondent, Shashikumar alias Swiss Kumar had while in the custody of the Jaffna Police HQ escaped and had since been arrested by the Police while in hiding in Wellawatte. It was only then that I came to know the suspect’s name and that he was the ninth suspect.’
At this point in the trial, when DSG Kumararatnam questioned the witness as to whether he could identify the ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar, the witness replied that he had not arrested him and nor had he produced him before Court, further adding that when the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Jaffna Division had informed him to send the report pertaining to the arrest of the suspect to the Wellawatte Police by fax, he had informed that there was no evidence against the suspect and refrained from sending the report.
The panel of Judges felt they had to intervene at this point.
When the Court queried from the witness as to why he had not carried out and complied with an order and directive given by the SSP of the Jaffna Division to arrest the ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar, Perera had stated that there was an absence of evidence in order to warrant the producing of the ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar before Court.
The Judges stated that not only had the said witness been reluctant to answer when questioned about ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar but that he was also misleading the Court. The Judges questioned the witness as to whether there was some problem between the witness and ninth respondent, Shashikumar aka Swiss Kumar, to which the witness replied in the negative. The bench then questioned whether the witness had given evidence in Maharagama. The witness stated that he had not, citing as the reason an order from his superior officer summoning him to return urgently, which he had received only while on the way to the Court in Maharagama. The Judges then told the witness that ‘You do not have the care exercised by your superior officer. Do you go to give evidence when such an issue has occurred in your jurisdiction? You are someone who absconds on one’s responsibility. It is as a direct result of this that those who were enraged got together and attacked the Jaffna Courts complex. It was because of the news which spread that the suspects would be presented to the Jaffna Court instead of the Kayts Court that those who were angered attacked the Court.’
The Court then questioned as to whether Perera was giving evidence to cover up the connection of the former Senior DIG of Jaffna to the matter at hand. Subsequently, the Court observed that Perera was withholding certain information and details when giving evidence, and after severely chastising Perera for the manner in which he had given evidence, afterwards the Court placed Perera in and under the custody of the Court’s Registrar during noontime when the Court broke for recess during lunchtime.
According to the witness he had received a transfer on 2015 May 22.
The Court ordered the Court’s Registrar to ascertain whether the said witness had in fact and indeed gone to a Court in Maharagama to give evidence.
On July 5, when the case resumed, the JMO of the Jaffna Hospital informed the Court that the cause of death of the girl was asphyxiation due to strangulation, and internal bleeding and hemorrhaging resulting from a blow to the back of the head and neck from a blunt instrument. The Police also revealed that foreign matter in the form of hair fragments had been found on the deceased’s body. A report has been submitted to the Court in this regard.
The hearing and recording of evidence from witnesses continues. This article is based in part on the reportage of the case done by journalist Siraj Hasim, as published in Lankadeepa.