By Nirmala Kannangara – Pictures by Nishantha Priyadharshana
The exhumation of Sri Lanka rugby player and Captain of Havelock Sports Club, Wasim Thajudeen’s body is expected to provide answers to many questions that have remained unanswered since his death in 2012.
Senior Attorney-at-Law Misbah Sathar, who appears for the Thajudeen family in the ongoing case before the Colombo Magistrate’s Court (Case No: B 849/12/03) said that he is surprised at how certain persons tried to prevent the remains of the deceased being exhumed claiming various reasons.
“We have never pointed fingers at anyone, so why have some got scared and tried to coerce the family to ask the court not to exhume the body. I am looking after the interests of the Thajudeen family and whose interests are they looking after? Is it the Thajudeen family interests, the Muslim community’s or any other individual’s? I know how the Thajudeen family was yearning to see justice and now since the court has re-opened the case, they are waiting for the final verdict. They are also grateful for the CID officials for carrying out further investigations, for which they were waiting for the past few years. As long as certainpersons try to portray it as a mere accident without supporting ongoing investigations, suspicions will inevitably be directed at a VVIP family,” Misbah Sathar said.
According to Sathar, the Attorney General is to personally appear with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in courts.
When asked how confident his clients that the remains exhumed are that of Thajudeen’s, Sathar said the family had identified the remains from the Kafan and the polythene which covered the remains of Thajudeen.
“It’s for certain that the remains are Thajudeen’s,” Sathar said.
Meanwhile, The former Police spokesperson at the time accused former Senior DIG Western Province Anura Senanayake for allegedly covering up the investigation, claiming it was an accidental death when there were many substantial evidence to prove that it was a suspected death.
“Although I wasn’t in the country at the time, I followed the incident carefully. According to law, at such a fatal accident, the police have to summon the magistrate and conduct a proper investigation. But the police did not follow the procedure. They immediately removed the vehicle from the scene and the place was washed off to erase any further evidence. It is the Senior DIG in the Province that has to take the entire responsibility,” said Jayakody.
Wasim Thajudeen was educated at S. Thomas’ Preparatory School and S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia. Thajudeen had been the Vice Captain of the S. Thomas’ College rugby team in 2003 and has played for the under 19 school team the same year. He has also represented the Sri Lankan national team at the 2008 Hong Kong Sevens and won the ‘Most Popular Rugby Player’ at the 2008 Caltex Observer Rugby Awards. He became the Havelock Sports Club Captain in 2009. After an injury, Thajudeen had to undergo a leg operation and was to return to the rugby field in 2012 when the unfortunate incident occurred on May 17, 2012 at Narahenpita.
However, a senior CID official on condition of anonymity said that a breakthrough in Thajudeen’s suspected death is expected soon, as fresh evidence have been received on how the deceased had been tortured before he was killed.
“It was earlier reported that the death was due to an accident in which the vehicle Thajudeen was travelling in had crashed on to a wall near Shalika Hall, Narahenpita. If the vehicle met with such an accident, couldn’t Thajudeen, who is strong in physique, jump out of the vehicle? The vehicle was not highly inflammable either. We have never seen a vehicle going into flames after any accident unless someone sets fire to the fuel tank,” sources said.
The CID, meanwhile, accused the Narahenpita police of failing to obtain many evidence including the CCTV footages and phone records of Thajudeen as the police, on a directive from a senior police officer, hid the evidence during the initial investigations.
Sources further queried as to why the police team did not suspect any foul play into this death although Thajudeen’s body was found left to the driving seat.
“At the post mortem, glass particles had been found on the reverse side of the deceased’s knee and the injuries have been caused by a broken bottle. Had the JMO Dr. Ananda Samarasekera seen the body, he would have checked how these injuries had happened and checked where the glass particles had come from. It is also surprising as to why these glass particles were not sent to the Government Analyst and further investigations were not conducted on the matter,” sources claimed.
According to the CID, the Narahenpita police investigation team has also failed to produce the witnesses to the Government Analyst when he came to the scene to check the charred vehicle and the body.
On a request made by the CID on Tuesday, August 4, the Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris gave directives on Friday, August 7 to exhume Thajudeen’s remains on Monday,(10).
The remains were exhumed in the presence of the Additional Magistrate Mt. Lavinia, Praharsha Ranasinghe; the Colombo Chief Judicial Medical Officer, Dr. Ajith Tennakoon and two other JMOs; Dr. Sunil Hewage and Dr. Jeann Perera and the area Grama Niladhari.
The remains were removed to the Institute of Legal Medical and Toxicology of the Medical Faculty Colombo by the Colombo Chief Judicial Medical Office (JMO) for further investigations. According to the Colombo Chief JMO Dr. Ajith Tennakoon, the entire investigation would be carried out in the Legal, Medical and Toxicology Institute Colombo.
“After initiating Thajudeen’s case, the CID made a request to Colombo Magistrate Court No: 3 for the approval to exhume the remains for further investigations, as the CID had confirmed that the death was not an accidental death but a murder,” Police Spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekera told the media at the Mohideen Jumma Mosque Dehiwela.
Family members present
The Additional Magistrate arrived at the mosque burial grounds around 6.45am on Monday. Thajudeen family members, the police, the JMOs, Grama Niladhari, the state officials who came to record the official statements and the mosque office bearers were allowed to enter the burial site but not the media personnel.
After the exhumation, the Chief Colombo JMO Dr. Tennakoon addressing the media said it became easier for the team to take all the remains out from the grave as it was well rapped with polythene.
“I got the remains to my custody and will be conducting further investigations and give a detailed report to the courts at the earliest. There were nothing else other than the bones of the deceased and the investigations would be carried out at the Legal, Medical and Toxicology Institute of Colombo, not anywhere else,” Dr. Tennakoon said.
When asked whether there is any plan to send the remains to a foreign country for a comprehensive investigation, Dr. Tennakoon said that he has all the facilities to carry out a broad investigation in Sri Lanka.
The remains were accompanied to the Institute of Legal, Medical Toxicology Institute by the Colombo Chief JMO in a red colour double cab bearing registration number PD 4182, which was surrounded by a group of Muslim youth without leaving any room for the waiting photographers to capture the covered remains of Thajudeen in the double cab.
Meanwhile, a protest was organized by a group of Muslims outside the Mohideen Jumma Mosque Dehiwela accusing the former regime for Thajudeen’s murder and the protestors urged the law enforcement authorities to hold an independent inquiry to bring the culprits to book.
“Who had given these VVIP children permission to kill those whom they don’t like? It is almost three years and three months since Thajudeen was killed but during the previous regime this was swept under the carpet without even conducting a proper investigation. We were helpless and had to suffer silently. We knew that Allah is above us and will give us a solace one day. The closed case is now re-opened and we are waiting to see justice being meted out to Thajudeen family,” Nazir, a protestor said. A spokesman from the Mohideen Jumma Mosque, Dehiwela, who did not wish to reveal his name, said that all the Muslims who come to this mosque were waiting to re-open this case to punish those who were behind the murder.
“Wasim Thajudeen visited this mosque whenever he could and when we heard his mysterious death, we were saddened but could not raise our voice as we were scared to do so. When the body was brought for burial, we made a special note in our registry and kept an eye on the grave site assuming that the body will be exhumed one day for further investigations. The case has now been re-opened and we now have faith in the country’s legal system and know for sure the culprits, irrespective of their affiliations to politicians, will brought to book,” the spokesman said.
When asked whether it is ‘haram’ (strictly prohibited) in the Islamic religion to exhume a body, the spokesman said that there is no such law in Islamic religion, and added that although this is the first time in the Mohideen Jumma Mosque Dehiwela that a body had been exhumed, there are many instances Muslim bodies had been exhumed from various other burial grounds. “If it is a suspected death, there is no barrier to exhume the body,” he added.
Meanwhile, refuting allegations that Thajudeen’s body could have been removed earlier to prevent the investigations, the spokesman said that the mosque security would have informed the office bearers if there was such a plan. “We have provided 24 hour security to the mosque and even the police and the CID were here for the past 20 days. We assure that the body was neither removed nor replaced,” the spokesman said.
Dr. S. Ramesh, who was among the protestors, said that he knew Thajudeen personally and was worried for not being able to raise his voice when he was killed three years ago.
“We knew the truth behind the death but in fear of certain situations, we had to keep our mouth shut. Now the case is re-opened and we hope to get the JMO report soon and see how the suspects would see stars this time when the country’s legal system take all those who were responsible into custody,” Dr. Ramesh added.
Manulla, another protestor, was also holding a placard at the protest and his eyes were filled with tears. According to him, the day before this unfortunate incident occurred, he had met Thajudeen and had exchanged pleasantries.
“He was such a good human being and we could not believe our ears when we heard the news. He underwent a leg operation a few months before and was not playing rugger for some time due to this but was about to return to the game when his life was cut short. People may have power and money but no one can become popular like Thajudeen. I suppose he knew that he was having threats but I wonder whether he informed this to his family,” Manulla said.
“We could not raise this issue at that time. Now even we can go and question the police without any fear. We know the law enforcement authorities could take the necessary action against the culprits after the JMO report is submitted to court by October 10,” said another protestor Rimzana.
Former SLRC Chief questioned
Meanwhile the CID has questioned the Chairman of Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC) following evidence that the victim had been abducted in a jeep owned by the SLRC. According to the SLRC, the Defender Jeep bearing registration number KA 0642 had been handed over to the then Chairperson of the Siriliya Saviya Foundation on August 11, 2011 on their request for a vehicle for a health related programmes they were carrying out. According to the Director General SLRC, they were unaware of the activities and maintenance of this jeep during the time it was with the Foundation till it was taken back on January 20, 2015.