KURUNEGALA: Bent in two, with his head in his hands in the tiny prison cell at the back of the courtroom last Thursday (25), all Seigu Sihabdeen Mohammed Shafi wanted was to go home to his wife and children. The man has been emaciated by his two month ordeal, spending nearly six weeks in detention at the CID in Colombo, and a further two weeks in the Kurunegala police remand while police conducted investigations into allegations that he had sterilised thousands of Sinhalese women during caesarean surgeries.
In the hours before he was finally granted bail by the Kurunegala Magistrate, Shafi sobbed about the plight of his wife, herself a medical doctor who he learnt was suffering from depression since his incarceration. He had no reason to hope, his lawyers said, because the deck, at least in Kurunegala where the inquiry against him is being conducted, is stacked heavily against him.
After two months of grueling investigations, the CID has come up with no evidence to prove that Dr Shafi clamped or squeezed the fallopian tubes of mothers on his surgical table in order to induce subfertility. Yet the conspiracy theory, first fueled by a sensational and poorly sourced front page story in a Sinhalese daily, took on a life of its own. Two months down the road, Dr Shafi’s family has been driven out of their home in Kurunegala. His three children were kicked out of the prestigious government school they were attending in the area. Even private tutors have refused to accommodate Shafi’s children in their classrooms.
What CID investigations have discovered is fiction-worthy. The country’s elite detective force found evidence of falsified and backdated police complaints. Investigators have informed court that the Director of the Kurunegala Hospital, one of the sterilisation drama’s main protagonists, has repeatedly attempted to mislead court and the CID. The Director of the Hospital has also been accused of hindering the probe into allegations mounted against the Muslim doctor. Worse still, at least four complaints have been forwarded to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – including one from the CID itself, through the IGP – about the conduct of the Kurunegala Magistrate Sampath Hewawasam. CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera confirmed before the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter attacks last week that the Magistrate’s wife works as an anaesthetist at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital where the scandal erupted.
The CID informed court last Thursday (25) that they would be commencing an investigation against the Hospital Director under Section 183 of the Penal Code that states whoever voluntarily obstructs any public servant or any person acting under the lawful orders of such public servant in discharge of his public functions, shall be punished with imprisonment or fine. Kurunegala police, from the DIG of the area, Kithsiri Jayalath – whose wife also works at the Teaching Hospital – to SP Mahinda Dissanayake to the OIC Pushpalal, are all under scrutiny by senior police officials, Sunday Observer learns. As for the Magistrate, the JSC is currently deliberating on the very serious complaints lodged against him.
All this was far from Dr Shafi’s mind when his lawyers walked over to his cell three days ago. “My wife has gone through so much, beyond her comfort zone, during the past two months struggling to save me. I need to be with the family to ensure that they are fine,” Dr Shafi told his lawyers.
In the Kurunegala Magistrate’s Court, the proceedings ran long, with the bail order finally delivered at nearly 7PM.
The magistrate granting bail imposed a Rs 250,000 monetary bail for surety of Rs 2.5 million each. Dr Shafi has also been ordered to present himself before the CID every Sunday of the week between 9AM – 12 noon.
Dr Shafi, a Senior House Officer (SHO) of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital was arrested on May 25, following the Easter Sunday attacks, initially on the basis of amassing excessive wealth, having links to terrorist organizations behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that his alleged involvement in sterilizing Sinhala mothers on whom he conducted caesarean operations.
Attention on Dr Shafi was instigated by a lead story carried out in a Sinhala paper stating that a doctor in Kurunegala had sterilized over 4000 Sinhala mothers in the area.
He was kept in custody for 72 hours, initially, after the arrest made under section 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) 1979. Subsequently, a Detention Order (DO) obtained by the Defence Ministry allowed the CID to keep him in custody. After a large scale inquiry made with a holistic approach, it was concluded that there was no sufficient evidence to prove the allegations on which the arrest was made.
Reporting facts to the magistrate on July 19, the CID informed court that there is no evidence to substantiate the claims against Dr. Shafi on having links to terrorist organizations and recalled the DO obtained against him.
Investigations to continue on grievous hurt
The case was taken up at 1.30PM when lawyers representing the interested parties started making submissions. The Magistrate had to inform the lawyers, during several intervals, to make sure that, when one is making submissions, one should not be disturbed. Despite this, counsels kept talking over each other, making the work of the court very difficult.
Opening statement was made by Dr Shafi’s Counsel Wasantha Nawarathne Bandara President’s Counsel who made an application that his client should be released on bail which was disrupted. He also, at the very outset, pleaded that persons that do not have a direct interest in the case should be excluded from the proceedings in the interests of national security or public safety, under article 106 of the Constitution.
This was not entertained under heavy objection.
Senior Deputy Solicitor General (SDSG) Thusith Mudalige, appearing before the Kurunegala Magistrate, sought for several orders in order to continue with the investigations. Submitting a 38 page B report, the CID documented incidents where the investigations by them were interrupted.
He informed that inquiry into money laundering charges will continue under the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) of the CID going forward and if there are any complaints to make them to the FIU. Thusith Mudalige also informed court that merely showing income in excessive amount is not an offense under the money laundering act unless the said monies have been utilized for laundering as described under section 3 of the money laundering act. He added that anyone with evidence should directly inform the CID without making statements at other forums.
He informed court that it was imperative that all parties extend their support in order for them to carry out the investigation.
Pertaining to the sterilization allegations, the B report states that investigations will continue to ascertain if action can be brought under Section 311 of the penal code for causing grievous hurt.
“Out of the 615 complaints that were received by the CID, only 147 could be considered in this case to be legitimate complaints. However, for a Section 311 offence to be substantiated, these 147 cases cannot be treated separately but must be considered as one whole act,” SDSG told court.
He added that, since this was the only basis, they will continue the allegation and, since it is a bailable offence, they do not object to granting bail.
The SDSG further requested that the magistrate issue an order on two television stations to issue unedited footage where parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thero was seen attempting to intimidate officers of the CID as well as making statements against SDSG Mudalige.
Lawyers appearing on behalf of affected mothers heavily objected to granting bail to Dr. Shafi on the basis that he will intimidate witnesses and, given his position as a doctor, he is able to influence the impartial investigations that are currently being carried out.
Under heavy objections in the room the court proceeded with all parties making lengthy submissions which lasted over three hours. The magistrate adjourned the court till 5.45PM, saying that the order will be issued once court reconvenes.
Not the end?
Hailing from a humble background, Dr Shafi never had it easy. He has made a life for himself and his family purely through hard work and wise investments.
“He is a very entrepreneurial guy. He has several other ventures that he has invested in that generate income. His father was a school principal and he was brought up on just the basics. He does not have any extremist ideas. If that was the case, he would not have sent his children to the most prominent Buddhist school in the area,” a lawyer familiar with his background said.
A senior prosecutor for the state said the way things had unfolded in Kurunegala for Dr Shafi and his family was extremely unfortunate and unfair. “It is by acting this way that we create extremists,” the official said.
As dusk fell on the Kurunegala Magistrate’s Court last Thursday, Dr Shafi was just happy to be able to go back home. But he knows life is going to be an uphill battle from now on. The process to clear his name in the aftermath of the cooked up scandal will not be easy. His eyes full of tears, the doctor wanted the message conveyed to his wife, Dr Imara Shafi, that he had finally been given bail and that he was coming home.
By the time the matter concluded, a crowd had gathered outside the court premises. There was no palpable unrest although heavy security presence was seen as a precautionary measure.
With an abundance of caution, Dr Shafi’s lawyers dressed him in a black coat and handed him some files, and quickly shuttled him out of a back door. Crowds of people waited in vain at the front entrance of the court room for the doctor to emerge. He never did. Dr Shafi was finally heading home.