A cry for justice

The quote “Justice delayed is justice denied” is very near to the family of British national Khuram Shaikh after he was killed in Tangalle on Christmas Day 14 months ago.

Words and more words is all Shaikh’s family has heard from the Sri Lankan authorities promising justice and action against the killers, but to date those assurances have remained confined to words and not action.

Khuram Shaikh’s brother Nasir Shaikh was in Colombo last week together with British Member of Parliament Simon Danczuk to demand a speedy trial into the murder.

“After 14 months I want more clarity that the case is moving in the right direction,” Nasir Shaikh told The Sunday Leader after meeting a few government and opposition politicians to raise his case.

Among those he met were Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody, government MP Thilanga Sumathipala, UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera and UNP MP Rosy Senanayake.

Nasir Shaikh and British MP Simon Danczuk were however clearly disappointed that requests for higher-level meetings with the government to discuss the issue had not materialized.

“We were hoping to meet some senior Ministers. We gave them plenty of notice that we were coming. We were pushing for the meetings so they could tell us exactly what the situation is in relation to a trial moving forward for Khuram Shaikh,” Labour party MP Simon Danczuk told The Sunday Leader.

Khuram Shaikh, who had just spent months fitting prosthetic limbs in Gaza as a Red Cross worker, was spending Christmas and the new year in Sri Lanka when, early on Christmas morning in 2011, he became involved in an altercation at his hotel in Tangalle.

Eight men including Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman W. G. Sampath Chandrapushpa were accused of killing the British national and injuring another foreign lady.

Sampath Chandrapushpa was arrested over the incident and later released on bail.

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Nasir Shaikh and MP Simon Danczuk

“There were eight suspects who were in custody over the killing. I was informed that a thorough investigation is taking place with lots of witness statements. And that felt that the compelling evidence will require that the magistrate keep them in custody till the point of the trial,” Nasir Shaikh said.

Simon Danczuk said that despite assurances from the government that those responsible for Khuram’s murder would be severely dealt with, so far the suspects have not been charged in court.

He said the issue had even been raised in the British Parliament and he had also met with the British Foreign office to urge them to push the Sri Lankan government to ensure justice for the victim.

“The jury is still out on if the United Kingdom attends the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka in November; not least because of this particular case. This would be a reason not to come because it is all about the rule of law. This is an example where the rule of law is not being applied and that’s a mistake,” the British MP said.

Simon Danczuk is a Member of Parliament for Rochdale, an area where Khuram Shaikh lived with his family and Danczuk says it is for this reason that he is campaigning on behalf of Shaikh’s family.

He rejected the assumption that his visit to Sri Lanka to push for justice was timed with the ongoing UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva or the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka.

“A horrific murder took place 14 months ago. At that time assurances were provided to Khuram’s family by government Ministers and we have the quotes where they say they will expedite the case and that there will not be a cover up and that it will go to trial quickly.  We took them at their word. We were patient. Twelve months on, on the anniversary of the murder, I went to see Nasir’s father. He explained to me that he is still grieving and that he visits his son’s grave every day. He said a trial will help him and his family get closure in terms of the grieving process. So we decided to push further. So it is a coincidence. This is not political. We have not come here with a political agenda,” the MP said.

Nasir says there is no need for another country to put pressure on Sri Lanka when the tragic incident should naturally be investigated and the suspects charged and presented in court.

“Part of our grieving process is the healing process and that healing process requires answers and an honest understanding of what actually went on that day. And 14 months on we still don’t know,” Nasir said.

Simon Danczuk said that during his visit to Sri Lanka last week he had received some positive assurances from the government with regard to the case but he noted that it was still important to put those words into action.

Recalling the telephone call he received on Christmas day of 2011 with the tragic news of his brother’s death, Nasir said it was traumatic and shocking.

The following January Nasir flew down to Sri Lanka and met with the police and other officials over the incident. In a blog posting last December on the first anniversary of the killing, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Robbie Bulloch had also expressed frustration at the failure to try the suspects involved in the murder.

In the posting on his blog which had been linked to the British High Commission website, Bulloch said that while it may be legal, it must also be difficult for the family of the victim to learn that the suspects have been released on bail.

“Many Sri Lankans were personally touched by the story of this young man who had given so much to others through his humanitarian work with the International Red Cross. Dealing with such a tragic and senseless loss is made even more difficult when a death happens overseas. Khuram’s brother, Nasser, came out to Colombo in January (2012) to try to make some sense of what had happened. It must have been a very bewildering and difficult time. It was at least encouraging for him to learn that the key suspects had been detained and to hear that the Sri Lankan authorities were hopeful for a swift prosecution,” Bulloch said in his blog post.

He noted that given the quick arrests and early assurances it is disappointing that one year on the case has yet to make it to trial.
“As a diplomatic mission, we can’t and shouldn’t get involved in the particulars of the case. But we do share the frustration of the family that the perpetrators of a very brutal murder have yet to be brought to trial. I know that this is a frustration shared by many Sri Lankans too,” Bulloch added. Simon Danczuk said he is sure the Sri Lankan public would, even now, like to see justice done for Khuram Shaikh and his family as the incident brought a black mark on Sri Lanka.

“We get the feeling the Sri Lankan public is embarrassed by this, that they are concerned about it. So they can understand our cause,” the British MP said.

He said that he will be meeting diplomats from other countries to brief them on the case and to try and get their support as well to put pressure on Sri Lanka.

Asked if they have faith in the Sri Lankan justice system even if a trial were to proceed, the British MP said having a trial would be the first step and then they could see what needs to be done next. “We will not give up,” Simon Danczuk said.

The MP also praised the Sri Lankan media for highlighting the incident and added that if a trial does take place then local media reports would help in the push for justice. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)

Report by Easwaran Rutnam