The Right to Information Commission stated today (14) that they will have to summon the Inspector General of Police to the Commission if the Sri Lanka Police continue to withhold information regarding their purchase and use of tear gas and keep passing responsibility to various sectors.
The Commission stated this today when it heard an appeal related to a request for information made by journalist Tharindu Jayawardhana and the research team at the Center for Society and Religion.
This request was for information regarding the purchase of tear gas by the Sri Lanka Police from 2010 to 2022, related procurement information, tear gas attacks in 2022, and the use of expired tear gas.
Today this appeal was called before the Commissioners of the Right to Information Commission, Justice Upali Abeyratne, Justice Rohini Walgama, senior lawyer Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and senior lawyer Jagath Liyana Arachchi. A team including the Commanding Officer of the Police Field Force Headquarters, the Acting Director of the Police Logistics Division and a Sub-Inspector who is a lawyer from the Police Legal Division were present for the appeal hearing. Appellants were Tharindu Jayawardhana, Attorney Suren D. Perera, and Attorney Manushika Cooray. A group of people including social activist and executive director of the Center for Society and Religion, Father Rohan Silva were also present to witness the appeal hearing.
Earlier, when the appeal was called, the Sri Lanka Police agreed to provide procurement information related to the purchase of tear gas from 2010 to 2022, and related documents were sent to the Right to Information Commission with a copy to the information requester. Appellant Tharindu Jayawardhana, presenting the facts during the hearing, stated that the police had given false and misleading information. The appellant demonstrated with evidence that while the information provided indicated that the police had purchased 25,000 tear gas bullets during this period and that these bullets were purchased on three occasions, the actual number of occasions and the amount of tear gas purchased were higher. The appellant pointed out that in the procurement documents related to the purchase of tear gas in 2016, tear gas was last purchased in 2012 and that the police hid information related to purchases in 2012.
The Right to Information Commission, which examined the documents in that regard, questioned the officials who represented the Sri Lanka Police as to why this information was not included. In reply, the Acting Director of the Police Supply Division stated that the tear gas was not purchased from the Supply Division at that time, therefore that information was not available. The Commission stated that the statement that information regarding 2012 purchases are not available, is contradictory to the earlier statement made by the Director of the Police Supply Division that all purchases of the Sri Lanka Police are made through his division. The police were warned not to make such irresponsible statements.
The Acting Director of the Police Supply Division and the Commanding Officer of the Police Field Force Headquarters said that information on expired tear gas and tear gas fired in 2022 are not available in the Police Supply Division and the Police Field Force Headquarters. In relation to the appeal, the Right to Information Commission stated that it issued summons to the Inspector General of Police and not to the respective divisions, that it is unacceptable that the officials who came to the commission representing the Inspector General say that there is no information in each division, and that it’s the responsibility of the Sri Lanka Police to provide information from wherever it is available.
The Commissioners of the Right to Information Commission, who criticized the officials representing the IGP for not revealing where this information is, stated that if the representatives continue to act irresponsibly in future, the IGP himself will have to be summoned to the commission.
The Commanding Officer of the Police Field Force Headquarters stated that they do not maintain information related to tear gas attacks regarding each event. The commission expressed surprise in this regard. The commanding officer later stated that the respective police divisions have the relevant information. The commission further added that according to the Information Act, the information in the possession, control, or custody of public authority must be presented, all relevant divisions are under the designated officer, the IGP, and that the IGP has control over the information.
Accordingly, the Commander of the Police Field Force Headquarters stated that all information requested by Tharindu Jayawardhana can be obtained and presented from the relevant departments. As the chairman recorded the relevant order, the police inspector representing the Police Legal Division mentioned that it is problematic to release that information as there are ongoing cases in court related to tear gas firings. Responding to that, Tharindu Jayawardena mentioned that the police changed their stance several times. He said that the police have been giving contradictory statements on different occasions, stating that information cannot be presented because it’s related to national security, because it’s not available in the relevant divisions, because the information has been destroyed, and now, because of ongoing court cases. He added that this is done to prevent the release of that information.
In response, the Right to Information Commission emphasized that a request for information cannot be rejected just because of ongoing cases, and that the public authority must prove that the disclosure of the relevant information will prejudice the authority and impartiality of the court. The commission added that since the police has never expressed such a concern in writing, this argument cannot be accepted. Accordingly, the commission gave the Sri Lanka Police 10 days to provide the information in question. The appeal will be called again on October 6th.