Police translator found wanting

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 22 January 2002, 11:25 GMT]
The East High Court Monday held that the policeman who translated the confession purported to have been made by a woman arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Tamil into Sinhala was not competent in both languages. The Police translator could not give the correct meanings of the Tamil and Sinhala words that were put to him by the Defence Attorney during the cross examination. In cases filed under the PTA, the confession of the accused is the sole production required for indictment.

The evidence of the Police officer to whom the accused made the confession, the Police person who translated the confession and the Police person who typed the confession is adequate under the PTA to make an indictment.

The Sri Lankan Police is largely Sinhala. It records confessions obtained from Tamils held under the PTA and complaints and statements of Tamil civilians in the Sinhala language.

Human rights lawyers say that this inevitably leads to widespread abuse of the law by the Police, afflicting thousands of Tamil civilians who are more often than not denied justice and who fall prey to corrupt officers and investigators who exploit the language barrier to their advantage.

In this case a Tamil woman, Thiagarajah Sathiyawathie of Thampalakamam in Trincomalee was indicted under the PTA for failing to provide information about the movements of some LTTE members in her area.

Tamil human rights lawyers charge that the all Tamils living in the north and east are culpable in theory under the PTA regulation that makes it an offence to withhold information about ‘terrorist’ activity from the Sri Lankan security forces. They point out that there absolutely no safeguard to prevent the Police from arbitrarily arresting any Tamil under this draconian law, particularly because the term “terrorist activity” is not defined in the PTA. Thousands of innocent Tamils have been arrested and detained under the ‘failing to provide information’ charge. This provision is widely and regularly abused by the security forces, Tamil human rights lawyers say.

When Sathiyawathie’s case came up for trial before the East High Court, Mr. K. Thiruchenthilnathan, the Defence Attorney, cross examined the police witness Yoosuf Sinnathamby who translated the confession purported to have been made by the accused in Tamil into Sinhala.

The confession of the accused was recorded by the woman Police constable, Ms Iresha Nilmini Gunawardene, in the presence of the assistant superintendent of police Mr. S. L. Munidasa. As both were not fluent in Tamil, the police constable, Mr. Yoosuf Sinnathamby, translated the confession given in Tamil into Sinhala.

Under the cross examination the defense put several Tamil and Sinhala words to the police witness Mr. Yoosuf Sinnathamby to know his competency in both languages. The witness failed completely to provide the correct meanings of the words.

At the conclusion of the trial the High Court Judge said in his order," I reject the evidence of the police witness who translated the confession purported to have been made by the accused in Tamil into Sinhala. A confession made by an accused in one language should be translated into another language by a person who commands competence in both languages. In this case I find that the said police witness is not competent in both languages. As the prosecution solely depends on the said confession to prove this case, I reject the confession".

State Counsel Mr. Sasi Mahendra informed court that he was not in a position to conduct the case as the prosecution has to solely depend on the said confession of the accused to prove his guilt.

The High Court Judge then made order acquitting the accused.

 

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