By Anurangi Singh and Aanya Wipulasena
A Fundamental Rights petition filed in the Supreme Court by Dr Shafi Shihabdeen details a stunning and elaborate plot to frame the medical officer of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, spearheaded by a top cop of the area, which culminated in the ‘sterilisation scare’ that took the country by storm after it was sensationally reported in a Sinhalese newspaper on May 23.
The senior police officer launched an apparent ‘investigation’ against Dr Shihabdeen in late April, nearly a month before he was arrested on suspicious accumulation of assets and subsequently investigated for an entirely different charge, according to details in the petition.
Dr Shihabdeen’s right to be presumed innocent has been vitiated by inviting the public to prefer complaints consequent to his unlawful arrest, the petition stated.
The FR petition was filed just days before the Criminal Investigations Department reported to the Kurunegala Magistrate that after a month of investigations, there was no evidence to the allegations that Dr Shihabdeen had sterilised women during caesarean sections.
Last Tuesday (25), attorney-at-law Rushdie Habeeb filed a fundamental rights petition on behalf of Dr Shihabdeen who is currently still in detention at the CID. The petition charges that the allegations levelled against the Kurunegala Senior Medical Officer were false and his arrest and detention an illegal abuse of power by the OIC of the Kurunegala Police Station and the DIG of Kurunegala, Kithsiri Jayalath.
OIC of the Kurunegala Police Station, Inspector Pushpalal; the OIC Kurunegala Police Station, DIG Jayalath; Director CID Shani Abeysekera; Defence Secretary Gen. S.H.S. Kottegoda; Acting IGP Chandra Wickremaratne and the Attorney General have been cited as respondents in Dr Shihabdeen’s petition.
The allegations that Dr Shihabdeen had performed illegal sterilisations were baseless, frivolous and unsupported by any clinical evidence the petition states, adding that the charges were levelled to maliciously tarnish his image and cause disrepute to him professionally and personally.
Detailing procedures during a C-Section and the staff members present during the surgery to disprove the sterilisation theory, the petition said there were no post-operative complaints recorded against Dr Shihabdeen. The petition also includes an annexure of a letter of reference for Dr Shihabdeen, detailing his unblemished 14 year career as a doctor, by the Consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, Dr Upali Jayawardane.
But more interestingly, the FR petition provides details about how the DIG Kurunegala on claims of receiving ‘intelligence information’ had begun investigations against the medical officer, searching his residence and office several times, and filing B reports in court without naming the person under investigation.
According to the petition filed on behalf of Dr Shihabdeen, the article in a Sinhala newspaper published as the lead story on May 23, 2019 that 4,000 Sinhala mothers had been sterilised by a NTJ doctor had cited information received from a ‘police source’ and was given publicity on the front page of the newspaper in order to set the stage and justify the illegal arrest and illegal detention of the doctor without a legal basis.
“The front page headline story in the Sinhala daily created disquiet and anxiety in the country with people demanding the arrest and prosecution of the doctor,” the petition states.
Dr Shihabdeen’s petition goes on to detail his arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by police officers attached to the Kurunegala Police Station.
According to the petition, on May 24, fearing for the safety of her family, Dr Shihabdeen’s wife -Dr Imara, telephoned her cousin Mohamed Parsan to come to their house. Dr Shihabdeen left for the mosque with his son, close to around 8.00 pm in a three wheeler.
The petition goes on to explain how when the doctor had indicated to the police officers who had arrived at his residence in civvies that night, that he intends to lodge a complaint indicated to the doctor that he should come with them and do so immediately at the police station.
“Dr Shihabdeen had proceeded to the Police station in his friend’s vehicle with the two Police officers also in the vehicle while his brother-in-law and a friend followed in Dr Shihabdeen’s vehicle; Near the Kandy Reach Hotel a Police jeep was parked and the said jeep then followed the two vehicles. However when they came near the Police Station the two Police officers requested them to keep driving and shortly after they passed the Kurunegala Police Station, the Police officers requested the driver to slow down. Thereafter the said Police jeep overtook the vehicle in which Dr Shihabdeen was travelling in and stopped in front. The 1st Respondent then stepped out of the jeep and asked Dr Shihabdeen to get into the Police jeep; He was then taken to the Police Station and kept there and brought back home at around 11.00 pm; This time a team of officers arrived, some in civil clothing and others in uniform carrying weapons with Dr Shihabdeen,” the petition described the incident.
Shortly thereafter another team arrived with sniffer dogs and thoroughly searched the residence which had lasted approximately two hours and during the search a Police officer was receiving calls from someone who seemed to be a superior officer and the conversations were overhead by Muhammed Parsan as the said officer would come out of the house to answer the calls.
The petition states that Dr Shihabdeen’s Fundamental Rights had been violated by the illegal arrest and illegal detention purportedly under a detention order as stated in the Report filed in MC Kurunegela B 1398/19 dated May 27, 2019. According to the petitioner, Dr Shihabdeen has not been issued with a copy of the detention order, which was said to be issued. The 1st to 3rd Respondents (OIC Kurunegala, Inspector Pushpalal and DIG Kithsiri Jayalath) had acted and continue to act with malice, for an ulterior purpose and in gross abuse of their power, the petition added. “No reasons were given for the arrest and no reasons exist for the arrest of Dr Shihabdeen and there are no reasons or basis for his continued detention,” the petition said.
The application requests the Supreme Court to order the disclosure of the application for a detention order under the PTA by the respondents and issue an interim order releasing the doctor. The petition also prays the court to grant and issue an order quashing the detention order issued.