The Killing of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and Three Bodyguards in the Mulleriyawe Shoot-out near Walpola Junction.



The shooting of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and conviction of Duminda Silva was a controversial episode in contemporary Sri Lankan history. Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra known as “Lucky Aiya” and three of his bodyguards were killed on 8 October 2011 in a shoot-out near the Walpola junction close to Mulleriyawa town, about six miles away from Colombo city. Another bodyguard was seriously injured.
Elections to several Local Authorities were being held on that day. Among these was the Kotikawatte-Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha. Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra had been engaged in hectic canvassing on that day when the incident occurred.

The clash was not between two rival political parties. It was between two groups of fellow United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) activists. One group was led by former Colombo MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. The other was led by the then Colombo District MP Duminda Silva. The Kotikawatte-Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha election was a “proxy battle” for preference votes within the UPFA between Premachandra and Silva. Bharatha backed his disciple and incumbent Chairman Prasanna Solangaarachchi. Duminda Silva worked against him and propped up another.

At the time of his death Premachandra was serving as an Adviser on Trade Unions to President Mahinda eajapaksa. The former Colombo District MP had lost the elections of 2004 and 2010. He had been replaced as Kolonnawa Electoral Organiser by Duminda Silva who had crossed over from the UNP. Premachandra resented this and there was a political turf war between him and Duminda Silva. The Local Authority Poll became a prestige battle.

The campaign was nasty and marred by violence. Bharatha Lakshman with three decades of political experience turned it into a moral crusade against drugs and drug dealers. Popular antipathy towards the “kudukaraya” menace in Kolonnawa struck a responsive chord in the hearts and minds of the voters.

When results were announced it was a great political triumph for Bharatha. His “candidate” had got a record number of 42,322 preferences. His rival’s nominee had only got 5,811 preferences. The voters had overwhelmingly endorsed Bharatha Lakshman’s war against the drug mafia. In the process Premachandra had demonstrated that he was still a political force in the area. Sadly Bharatha Lakshman was not alive to savour his victory. Fate’s moving finger had written his epitaph already.

According to media reports, on Local Election day Bharatha was campaigning in one area and Solangaarachchi in another. Duminda Silva and his group campaigning in another area were reportedly in high spirits after imbibing liquor in an area called “Tamilnaduwatte”. At one stage Duminda and his accomplices went up to a polling booth in close proximity to Solangaarachchi’s residence. Duminda asked Solangaarachchi’s wife Madhu whom she voted for. There was a verbal altercation. When Madhu’s mother-in-law/Solangaarachchi’s mother remonstrated, Duminda Silva abused her also using obscene words. Some allege that both women were roughed up. Duminda also continued to intimidate and threaten Solangaarachchi’s supporters at the spot.

Bharatha Lakshman was informed of what was happening. Since he was close to the spot, Bharatha rushed to the area with his comrades. Duminda heard that Bharatha was coming and left the place. Both convoys met on the road near Walpola junction. Bharatha and Duminda both got down from their vehicles and moved towards each other.
Bharatha asked Duminda why he was trying to bully and frighten women in a cowardly manner. Duminda suddenly hit Bharatha and also kicked him. Taken by surprise Bharatha fell down. At this point Duminda ordered his men to open fire. Realising the seriousness of the situation, Bharatha’s armed “official” bodyguard also opened fire. Bharatha’s comrades who served as his unofficial bodyguards were unarmed. Bharatha and three of his comrades were shot dead. Bharatha was fired upon while he was lying on the ground. His official bodyguard too was injured.

Cover-up exercise

Instead of the perpetrators being arrested, the country was regaled with what appeared to be a massive cover-up exercise. It was reported that Duminda Silva was seriously injured in the shootout. He was admitted to hospital. The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited Duminda in hospital. Special protection was provided. Outsiders were not allowed to go near Duminda. Finally he was escorted amidst great security and was flown to Singapore. It was said that he had sustained many injuries and needed extra medical treatment. Later when Duminda returned to Sri Lanka, he told authorities that he was suffering from partial memory loss and could not remember what had transpired on the day in question.

There was an undue delay in effective legal proceedings being instituted. There was a long period of perceived procrastination attributed euphemistically to the law’s delays. Most people however suspected that the close relationship between Duminda Silva and powerful persons in the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime was the stumbling block. The matter dragged on for years and it was widely believed that the aphorism “Justice delayed is justice denied” was being proven true in this instance also.

The advent of a new dispensation under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2015 saw a fresh breeze blowing in musty judicial corridors. The Attorney-General filed an indictment in courts on March 2015 for the killings of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, Dharshana Jayathilake, Mohamed Azmi and Manivel Kumaraswamy and also for inflicting gunshot injuries on Rajapurage Gamini.

The indictment consisted of 17 charges against 13 suspects including Duminda Silva.Chief Justice Kanagasabapathy Sripavan appointed in May 2015 a three-member bench for Trial-at-Bar proceedings. The bench comprised three High Court Judges, namely Shiran Guneratne, Pathmini Ranawaka and M.C.B.S. Moraes. The Chairman was Shiran Guneratne.

Trial-at-Bar proceedings began on 22 May 2015. The case was heard on a regular basis from 12 September 2015. The names of the 13 accused were Chandana Jagath Kumara, Lanka Rasanjana, Malaka Sameera, Widanagamage Amila, Suranga Premalal, Saman Kumara, Saman Abeywickrema, Rohana Marasinghe, Duminda Silva, Anura Thushara de Mel, Chaminda Ravi Jayanath alias Dematagoda Chaminda, Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Sarath Bandara and Janaka Bandara Galagoda. The last named was tried in absentia as he was absconding. The accused were charged under Sections 296, 140, 146, 147, 486 and 300 of the Penal Code and some clauses of the Firearms Act.

Among the 17 charges were committing and conspiring to commit murder of four individuals, attempted murder, possessing illegal firearms, inflicting gunshot injuries, unlawful assembly and criminal intimidation on or around 8 October 2011. A team of lawyers from the Attorney General’s Department led by Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige represented the prosecution; 42 witnesses testified in Courts and 126 documents including Government Analysts reports and JMO reports were produced.

The verdict

Trial-at-Bar proceedings concluded on 14 July 2016.The verdict in the high profile trial was delivered on 8 September 2016. It was a divided verdict with two of three Judges finding five of the accused guilty and acquitting eight others.

One judge however found all 13 accused not guilty. High Court Judge Shiran Guneratne who presided over the Trial-at-Bar exonerated all 13 accused in the murder trial, citing lack of integrity of the witnesses produced by the prosecution and the inability to prove charges beyond reasonable doubt. He said that the benefit of doubt should go to the accused. Fellow High Court Judges Pathmini Ranawaka and M.C.B.S. Moraes differed from Guneratne. This resulted in a two to one majority verdict.

High Court Judge Pathmini N. Ranawaka pronounced the two to one majority verdict in the packed Courthouse with Judge Moraes concurring. Judge Pathmini Ranawaka delivering the majority verdict stated that the prosecution had proved during the trial that the provocative conduct of 11th accused Duminda Silva led to the whole incident.

The Judge further observed that the evidence submitted has proved that Duminda Silva had provided leadership to the unruly behaviour of the mob and therefore he should be held responsible for the whole incident. She further said that the JMO reports had revealed that Duminda Silva was under the influence of liquor at the time of the incident, but deceased Bharatha Premachandra was not so. The verdict also rejected the argument put forward by the defence during trial that Silva had been shot at first by the Premachandra faction.
Courts then acquitted and discharged eight of the accused. They were – Chandana Jagath Kumara, Lanka Rasanjana, Malaka Sameera, Widanagamage Amila, Suranga Premalal, Saman Kumara, Saman Abeywickrema and Rohana Marasinghe. Death sentence was pronounced for five persons. They were – Duminda Silva, Anura Thushara de Mel, Chaminda Ravi Jayanath alias Dematagoda Chaminda, Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Sarath Bandara and Janaka Bandara Galagoda.

The 10th accused Janaka Bandara Galagoda was tried in absentia and convicted. In addition to the verdict of execution, the five convicted persons were also fined Rs. 40,000 each.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at