Grease Devils and Police and Army attacks on civilians in Mannar and Vavuniya
Police attacks on civilians in Komarasankulam (Vavuniya district)
11 men were arrested by the Vavuniya Police in Komarasankulam at 10.30 pm on 20th August 2011. The men were severely beaten before arrest and at least two persons were tortured inside the Vavuniya Police Station. Another man was arrested when he visited the police station on 21st August to recover his vehicle, which had been taken into custody during the incident on the 20th. Two men who were tortured by the Vavuniya police received treatment at the Vavuniya Hospital. The rest were produced before the Vavuniya Magistrate on 23rd August and remanded to the Vavuniya Prison. All 12 men have since been released on bail. The next hearing is scheduled for 12th October 2011.
Incident in Komarasankulam
At around 9.30 pm on 20th August, two men wearing shorts and t-shirts and carrying a bag were seen opposite St. Mary’s Church in Komarasankulam. People telephoned the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Sithamparapuram Police Station, said that suspected ‘grease men’ had entered the village and asked for protection. The OIC accused the people of fabricating these stories and put down the phone. Around 10 minutes later, a Sergeant from the Sidhambarapuram police, came to the church and inquired into the incident. However by this point, the suspicious men had left the scene.
A short while later, people saw the same two men coming back towards the church on a motorbike with the headlights off. When the men saw the people gathered on the road, they turned and drove away from the village. A witness states that he and another boy from the village chased the bike up to Kalnatinakulam. They saw the men travelling back towards them on the bike. They stopped and questioned the men who said that they were police officers but did not produce any identification. Since the men claimed to be police, the witness and the other boy left them at Kalnatinakulam and returned to the Church. On the way, they saw a police jeep from Sithamparapuram drive into the Komarasankulam school premises. They returned to the Church and told the people what they had seen.
Around 10-11pm people who had gathered at the Church decided to search for the suspicious men and walked towards the Komarasankulam school premises. They found the motorbike used by the two men on the main road near the school. The bike was registered in the Sabaragamuwa Province, around 200km away from Vavuniya. The people began to search for the two men and found them hiding in a bush near the school grounds. The people demanded to know why the men were in the village and asked for proof that they were police officers. The men continued to insist that they were police officers but refused to produce any identification. While they were arguing, the police jeep drove out of the Komarasankulam school premises up to the crowd. The police Sergeant identified the two men as police officers and asked the people to release the men to his custody. The same Sergeant had visited the church earlier that night. The people refused and demanded that the men produce some identification to prove that they were in fact the police. As the argument continued and the men refused to provide any identification or reason for their presence in the village, the people grew agitated and began to beat the men with sticks. The Sergeant was also injured as he tried to protect the two men.
At this point, the Parish Priest in Komarasankulam, arrived at the scene and tried to stop the people from beating the men. The people refused to hand over the men or to allow the Sergeant to be taken to hospital for treatment. They stood in front of the Police vehicle and prevented the jeep from being moved. They also refused to allow the Sergeant to be taken to hospital by motor bike.
Later on, the OIC and 3 or 4 officers from the Sithamparapuram Police arrived at the scene. The people had surrounded the two men and refused to hand them over to the police, or to allow the police vehicles to be moved. At one point, the police tried to take the men away in a three wheeler, but this vehicle was also registered in the Sabaragamuwa province and the people were suspicious and refused to allow the vehicle to pass.
10 minutes later, around 20 officers from the Madukandha Army Camp arrived at the village and surrounded the people. There were around 150 villagers including women and children gathered at the time. The Army was able to negotiate with the people and the two men were released to Army custody.
Later, about 50-60 policemen from the Vavuniya Police Station arrived at the scene. Although the conflict had largely subsided by this time, the police carried riot gear and were armed with tear gas and batons. People saw the police making sticks and poles out of branches and trees and many fled the scene. Around 75 men and boys who remained were surrounded by the police and ordered to sit on the floor. No one was allowed to leave the place. The Army moved aside when the police arrived and said that this was a matter to be resolved by the police. The Police were in uniform and civilian clothing and some of those present recognized the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Vavuniya Police among them.
Two priests from Vavuniya arrived at the scene at the same time as the police. The Parish Priest tried to negotiate with the police and explain that the conflict had been resolved and therefore, not to take the men to the Police Station. The police pushed the priest and threatened to take the priest also to the Police. Two boys from the village who had been translating for the police tried to help the priest. The Police immediately attacked the two boys, pushed them inside the Police vehicle and severely beat them. As the crowd became agitated, the Police began to beat the people with sticks and poles. According to one witness, when he tried to reach the Parish Priest, the police grabbed his head and pushed him into the jeep. When the priest tried to protect him, the police abused him and warned him not to intervene. One boy, who grabbed the priest’s hand as he was being dragged into the jeep, was beaten and fractured his leg.
Many were able to escape when the police began to attack the people, but 11 men, including an 18 year old student, were arrested that night (20th August). The police pushed the men inside the jeep and around 15 officers stood at the front of the vehicle so the men could not see out of the vehicle. They were driven around for around an hour and severely beaten inside the jeep before being taken to the Vavuniya Police Station at around 1am (21st August).
At the police station the men were ordered to crawl on their knees for around 30 meters up to the station. The boy whose leg had been broken was also forced to crawl despite his injuries. The men were stripped to their underwear, searched and their personal belongings were taken by the police. The police recorded their details and 10 of them were put into a single overcrowded cell. Another man whose father was Sinhalese was held separately. Once they were inside the cell they realized that a Catholic brother/seminarian was among the group arrested.
On 21st August, a three wheeler driver from a neighboring village was arrested when he visited the police station to claim his vehicle which had been taken into police custody during the attack in Komarasankulam the previous night.
At around 2 am on 21st August, two officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) came to the cell and called out two persons including the seminarian. The witness states that the officers appeared to be drunk. Both men were pushed in to the interrogation room and fell to the floor. There were five officers, two in police uniform and others in civilian clothing.
One victim states that: “the officers dragged me up and asked ‘will you hit the police’ when I tried to tell them that I did not hit the police, they asked me to shut up. When the officers began to hit me, I tried to shield my face with my hand. The officer ordered me to put my hand down and hit me with his fist, on my forehead, cheeks, chin and my ears. When he hit my ears I felt an electric shock pass through my body. I saw the seminarian being beaten by other officers in the same room. An officer hit me on the head with a baton. When I fell down, they trampled me and continued to beat me. They put me on a table and two officers held my hands and another beat the soles of my feet and my head with a baton. They pushed me on the floor and trampled and kicked my head. They questioned me about a robbery that took place in the village over three years ago. I said that I did not know anything about the robbery. When I tried to stand up, an officer kicked me in the head and I fell backward. Another officer grabbed me and slammed me against the wall. While I was being tortured, another senior officer in uniform entered the room. I thought that he was the OIC and begged him to release me. The officer picked up a baton and hit me on the head.”
According to the other victim, the seminarian, three Police officers hit him with batons on the head, face, ears hands and legs. He was not able to defend himself since all three were hitting him at once. They hit his left ear very badly and his ear drum burst as a result. For about two weeks he was unable to hear from his left ear. He still suffers pain on his face and head and continues to get medical treatment.
According to the first witness, the Police only stopped beating them, when the OIC entered the station and shouted at them to stop beating the prisoners. The OIC was not at the station when they were brought in. He believes that the OIC heard their screams and had seen the other detainees who were also injured from the beating earlier that night. Once the OIC arrived the police took them back to the cell at around 3 am (21st August).
The seminarian states that they were locked in a small room, which had hardly any room to move about, and the squatting toilet also was inside the cell. They were not given food or water and had to drink from the tap used for the toilet. The detainees were taken to the Vavuniya Hospital at 4 am on 21st August.
At the hospital, the detainees were checked by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO). She told one victim, who had been tortured by the police, that he had no visible injuries and did not need to be admitted for treatment. A Tamil male nurse convinced the JMO that the victim was in pain and may have suffered internal injuries, following which he was admitted for treatment. The seminarian was also admitted for treatment.
The JMO asked the victim how he had acquired the injuries and he told her that he had been tortured by the Vavuniya police. The victim saw the JMO speak to a person who he understood to be the OIC of the Vavuniya Police over the phone and ask him in Sinhalese, what she should state in the medical certificate. The JMO report which was given to the witness on 26th August states that his injuries were due to an ‘assault by unknown persons’.
At the hospital, the victim had to lie on a bench and was not given any treatment until around 2 pm when he was given a painkiller. At around 4 pm he was given a bed and his feet were fastened by shackles to the bed. The two men who had been beaten by the villagers and the police Sergeant were also being treated in the same ward. The Sinhalese doctors would speak to the police officer and the two men but did not treat or speak to the witness. He was not given food or water until his mother brought him lunch on 22nd August. He was asked to collect water from a tap outside the ward. Since he could not walk due to his injuries, he borrowed water from another patient to take his tablets.
On 21st August, three intelligence officers from the Criminal Investigation Department visited the witness and took his statement. They made him sign the final statement, but he is not aware of its contents since the statement was written in Sinhalese, a language he doesn’t read.
A jailor from Vavuniya prison was stationed at the accident ward to monitor those visiting the witness and the seminarian. On 22nd August, a friend visited the victim in the hospital but when he tried to speak to the victim he was told that the victim was in Police custody and he must obtain permission before speaking to him. A Catholic nun who visited the seminarian in the hospital was allowed to speak to him, but when the seminarian received a phone call, the jailor scolded them and asked the visitors to leave.
The victim was transferred to Ward 1 on 23rd August. An x-ray was taken of his injuries but he was not given any treatment or checked by the doctors. He believes that the Sinhalese doctors were reluctant to treat him since they believed that he was a criminal who had attacked the police.
The seminarian states that he was admitted to the ENT ward and shackled to the bed. Different jailors were assigned in the ward to monitor his visitors. Some of the jailors tightened the restraints until it was very painful, and also chased away those visiting him and did not allow him to use the phone. Some others were friendlier, inquired what had happened and allowed visitors.
On 22nd August around 150, parents, wives, relatives and friends of the 12 men gathered at the Vavuniya Court, believing that the men would be produced in Court that morning. Only one person was produced in Court as two were in Vavuniya hospital and 9 others had been taken to Anuradhapura prison. Relatives were told by the police, that the men had been taken to the Anuradhapura Remand Prison on 21st August and could not be brought as there was no transport to bring them to Court in Vavuniya. The Judge gave permission for the seminarian to be released on bail as soon as he was discharged from the hospital.
On 23rd August, 10 men were produced in the Vavuniya Court. They were represented by about 14 lawyers from the Vavuniya Bar. The police accused the men of beating and injuring a police officer on duty. Lawyers for the men argued that this was not a planned attack against the police and that the men had beaten the ‘grease men’ and the police were injured accidentally. The police objected to the men being released on bail and threatened that if the men were released, the police would not go to Komarasankulam on duty. They also warned that the police would not be responsible if anything should happen to the men once they were released. Following the objections by the police, the Judge ordered the men to be remanded to the Vavuniya Remand Prison.
The men were produced in Court on 24th and 25th August. On the 24th, the Judge refused bail but the following day he rejected police objections and ordered the men to be released on personal bail. The next hearing of the case is scheduled for 12th October 2011.
The victim had received treatment at the Vavuniya Hospital since 21st August. On 25th August he was discharged from hospital and taken to the Vavuniya Remand Prison where he was held in a cell for around 2 hours, until the jailor obtained a Court Order releasing him on bail. The victim was released at around 5 pm on 25th August and returned home to Komarasankulam. On 26th August, he received his medical certificate, signed by the JMO, which states that his injuries were caused by “unknown persons”, despite his statement on 21st August that the injuries were due to torture by the Vavuniya police.
The Catholic Seminarian, who was tortured by the Vavuniya police, was released on bail on 22nd August. However he continued to receive treatment at the Vavuniya Hospital and was shackled to a hospital bed when a Catholic nun visited him on 23rd August.
The victim states that he lives in fear of a further attack or arrest by the police. When the police objected to bail, they warned that they would not be responsible if anything were to happen to the men in the next 21 days. The victim is afraid to stay at home and as of 29th August, had not returned to work out of fear for his life. He states that he can be easily recognized by the police since he was kept in the same ward as the injured policemen and the suspected grease men. He still suffers from severe pain, headaches and dizziness as a result of his injuries.
List of those arrested on 20th night (all male)
- Saranraj, 18 years, student Komarasankulam Maha Vidhyalaya
- Robington, 21 years, Security Guard, Human Rights Commission
- Jegetheesan, 25 years, Sales Executive at Browns Company, Vavuniya (Brother of Saranraj)
- Vimalraj, 28 years, Mason
- Denniston, 28 years, Barbershop owner
- Emilraj, 29 years, Demining officer,
- Gnanaruben, 32 years, Catholic Seminarian (Brother of Vimalraj)
- Chandralal, 35 years, Demining FSD
- Pushpaseelan, 38 years, MSF Logistics Assistant
- Venthakoon, 38 years, Laborer
- Selvam, 45 years, Mason
- Local three wheeler driver from neighboring village – arrested the following day.
Army attacks against civilians in Josephvaz Nagar, Thottaveli and Pesalai (Mannar district)
On 22nd August night, the military attacked around 800 civilians in Josephvaz Nagar, Thottaveli located in the Mannar District in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. The people had set up a vigilance committee and placed make shift barriers to guard the village against grease devils. The military objected to such measures by the people and following an assault on some vigilantes at around 11.15 pm, where a military jeep was stopped at a barrier, several military jeeps entered the village and hundreds of officers attacked the people with guns and batons. The Parish Priest, Vicar General of the diocese and another priest were also threatened in the attack. At a meeting with the people following the attack, Mannar Commander, Brigadier Maithree Dias threatened to arrest the priests, accused them of instigating the people to attack the military and threatened to shoot any person who attempted to surround a military camp or vehicle in the future.
Vigilance Committee in Thottaveli
On 19th August, the Parish Priest of Thottaveli informed the Erukulampitty Police that villages were scared about grease devils in the village and were planning to organize vigilance committees to prevent attacks in the village. On 21st August, the Head Quarters Inspector (HQI) of Mannar met the villagers and the Parish Priest in Josephvaz Nagar to discuss the grease devil issue. On both occasions, the Police requested that no violence should be used except in self defense. The Police also requested that if anyone was caught as suspected grease devils by villagers, they should be handed over to the police. The Parish Priest and villagers agreed to the conditions and vigilance committees were set up with police permission to guard the village between 6pm and 6 am each day.
Grease Devil Sightings
On 21st and 22nd August, between 6-8pm, two women had each seen a strange man, in different locations (in separate incidents), in Thottaveli, and suspected the person to be a grease devil. In the incident on 22nd August, the woman saw a grease devil enter her house and shouted for help. The woman was in a state of shock and was not able to speak and explain anything to the others. The villagers chased the man who was able to get away.
Attack on Civilians in Thottaveli
A witness states that on 22nd night, he entered JV Nagar at around 11.00 pm, and passed a small makeshift barrier set up by the vigilance committee at the entrance to the village. The barrier was about 1 foot in height and made of logs and stones. On his way to the village, the witness saw a lorry with a tin roof parked opposite the Our Lady of Martyrs Church in Thottaveli, with its headlights switched off. A short while after the witness passed the barrier he saw the same vehicle try to enter the village with around 10 army officers inside. The villagers refused to allow the vehicle to pass and asked the Army officers why they wanted to enter the village at that late hour. The officers said that the entire area was under their control and that no one could stop them from entering the village at any time. They said that there was no need for a vigilance committee and that they would protect the village. The people said that the vigilance committee had been set up with police permission.
While the villagers were arguing, two officers got down from the vehicle and started beating the people near the barrier with guns and batons. Three villagers were injured in the attack. The others ran towards the Church, which is about 300 meters from the barrier, shouting that the army had entered the village and was attacking the people. They rang the Church bell signaling an emergency and around 300-500 people gathered near the Church. The Parish Priest also rushed to the Church on his motor bike and as he was parking his bike the Army vehicle stopped near the Church and the Army officers began to beat the people who had gathered there.
The Parish Priest spoke to the officers and tried to explain that the people had been given permission by the police to set up the vigilance committee. He told them to check with the police HQI about the arrangement and questioned them as to why they had attacked villagers who had not tried to harm the officers or their vehicle. The army insisted that would provide protection to the village and that they could enter the village at any time. The witness saw an Army officer making several phone calls and asking for reinforcement to be sent to the village to control the situation. Fearing that the situation would worsen, the Parish Priest called the Vicar General (VG) a senior Church leader in Mannar diocese (covering Mannar and Vavuniya districts) and then rushed to Erukalampitty Police Station. He hoped that the police would intervene and resolve the dispute between the military and the people. Another Catholic priest who was visiting his home in Josephvaz Nagar Nagar also arrived at the Church around this time.
When the Parish Priest reached the police station, there were only three officers at the station and they refused to come to the village at that time. The police tried to call the HQI Mannar and since he did not answer, the message was conveyed to another police officer. As the Parish Priest was leaving the police station around 15-20 Army officers came towards him in a threatening manner, with iron rods and sticks, shouting abusive words. The Army went away, and an attack was prevented when the Police intervened.
The Vicar General who then came with two more priests met the Parish Priest in front of the police station and they started to go to Josephvaz Nagar. The priests were stopped by Lt. Col. Sujeewa who refused to let them go towards the church. They proceeded after the intervention of the VG.
According to a witness, the Parish Priest returned to the village on his motorcycle at high speed and shouted to the people to leave the place. Behind him, the witness saw another army vehicle being driven at high speed towards the Church. Around 20 officers got down from the vehicle and started beating the people. Women and children were also in the crowd and were attacked. The people including the witness began to run from the scene. As the witness tried to enter his family compound, he was chased by three officers. One man who crossed in front of the witness was beaten on his back by an officer. The witness saw another injured person fall unconscious near the entrance to his compound. As he was trying to open his gate, the witness was beaten with a gun. The officers tried to chase him into the compound and continued to hit him as he tried to close the gate. A few minutes later, three officers entered the compound and ordered the witness to come with them. The witness’s wife and her parents were inside the house and his wife came out and told the officers repeatedly that he is her husband. The army finally left the compound but warned the witness that they knew how to deal with people like him. The witness stayed inside his house and estimates that around 20 Army vehicles entered the village.
At the Church, the Vicar General and the other priests tried to stop the army from beating the people but were unable to stop the violence. The Vicar General was also pushed by an Army officer but was saved by a senior officer who intervened. The officers did not allow the people near the Army vehicle, and several people had told the witness that they saw a masked man dressed in black sitting inside the vehicle. They believed that this was the grease man who had entered the village earlier that night. By this time several people had gathered near the Church and tried to ring the Church bell to signal that the people were being attacked. The people who rang the bell were severely beaten by the Army. The witness’ father, who lives near the church, saw Army officers deliberately damage the Parish Priest’s motorbike that was parked near the Church. People estimated that there were between 15 – 23 army trucks in the village with hundreds of officers.
Meeting with Brigadier Dias around 1.30 am, 23rd August
By around 1.30 am on 23rd August, the violence had subsided and the Mannar area commander, Brigadier Maithree Dias, also came to the spot. He addressed around 300 people who had gathered at the church for safety. The Brigadier scolded them and accused the Catholic priests of instigating villagers to attack the military. He threatened to arrest the priests and shoot anyone that tried to come near a military camp or vehicle. He pointed to iron bars nearby that were being used for the construction of a new church, and accused the people of collecting weapons to attack the Army. He threatened to arrest around 8-10 boys who were preparing for their Advanced Level Examination in August and said that he would prevent them from completing the exam. The HQI of Mannar Police had also arrived at the scene based on a call made by Brigadier Dias. The Brigadier asked the police to arrest the priests, and the police said that they would make the arrest if the military would make a complaint.
Finally Brigadier Dias ordered the people to apologize for attacking the military and for breaching the peace. Several community leaders, who wished to prevent a further attack, stood up and apologized for the actions of the people. The military made video recordings of these statements as proof that the people had attacked the army. At around 2.30 am the people were ordered to leave the Church in single file and return to their homes. At least two people including a school teacher were attacked as they left the Church.
Several people were injured in the attack but were too afraid to visit a hospital for treatment. Several people told the witness that the military beat them with poles wrapped with barbed wire which increased the injuries.
Aftermath of the attack – 23rd August 2011
On 23rd August, in the afternoon, a military vehicle came at high speed into the village and parked near the Church. 3-4 officers got down and ran into the Church premises and left several minutes later. The officers went to the house where the Parish Priest was having lunch with another priest. A senior officer entered the house and spoke to the priests and asked about their health and spoke briefly on the previous nights incident. The military went back to the Church before leaving the village. The people believe that this operation was intended to scare or intimidate the villagers. On 23rd August evening the villagers gathered in several groups in family compounds and set up guards around each compound for their safety.
Attacks on Civilians in Pesalai
A similar incident took place in Pesalai on 21st August 2011 when a grease devil was seen inside the village by people who had organized to guard the village. When the man was chased by the people, he was seen running into a Navy checkpoint. The people surrounded the checkpoint and asked the military to produce or release the grease man. Some villagers had claimed they saw the man changing his clothes inside the checkpoint. Over 700-1000 people were gathered near the checkpoint by this time. The military began to attack the people and 10-15 persons were admitted to the Mannar Hospital with serious injuries. Several more did not visit the hospital out of fear. The people asked the police for protection but were refused.
Meeting with Brigadier Dias on 24th August
On 24th August, a meeting was held at a Church in Pesalai (Mannar District). Brg. Dias, the Navy Commander for Mannar, the Divisional Secretary for Mannar and parish priests of Pesalai and Thottaveli (Josephvaz Nagar) participated with many people from both villages.
Brig Dias repeatedly threatened the people and said that the Army will shoot people if they caused trouble or tried to surround an Army camp or vehicle. He accused the priests of instigating people to violence. The Divisional Secretary asked the Parish Priest at Josephvaz Nagar Nagar to speak and he gave his account of the violence on 22nd night. When he did so, Brigadier Dias threatened the priest and said that “I will talk and deal with you later”.
Following the attack on 22nd August, there is an increased military and police presence in Josephvaz Nagar. The HQI and Army have visited the Parish Priest and taken down his personal details and contact numbers and inquired about the other Churches and villages that he goes to conduct religious services.