Battle won but war continues

By The Sunday Morning News Desk

Photo Pradeep Dambarage

The release of Dr Seigu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital on bail came as a relief to him and his family, but the battle to clear his name is far from over.

Dr. Shafi walked out of court after meeting the bail conditions disguised as a lawyer as protests continued outside the court against his release.

The legal battle over mass sterilisation charges against Dr. Shafi of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital took a new twist as it was revealed that only 147 out of 615 complaints received by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) raised suspicions.

Following a lengthy trial on Thursday (25), the Kurunegala Magistrate’s Court released the doctor who was taken into custody by the Kurunegala Police two months ago over the allegations of acquiring assets in a suspicious manner, performing illegal sterilisations, and alleged links with terrorist organisations.

He was released on a cash bail of Rs. 250,000 and four surety bails worth Rs. 2.5 million each, and he was ordered to present himself between 9 a.m. and noon every Sunday at the CID.

It was reported that there were no objections from the Attorney General’s (AG) Department or the CID to granting bail for Dr. Shafi. However, the attorneys of the aggrieved party had opposed the granting of bail to the accused doctor, claiming that if the accused was released on bail, there was a possibility of him interfering with the investigation by bribing the complainants.

Following the concerns raised by the attorneys of the aggrieved party, the Magistrate had again sought the opinion of the AG’s Department, and Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige had stated that there was no objection from the Department for granting bail to the accused.

During the hearing, Navaratne Bandara PC, appearing on behalf of the defendant, had told the court that it was not fair to imprison the doctor over allegations of being involved in illegal sterilisation during C-section operations as he had not performed the surgeries alone. Further, PC Bandara had requested the court to release Dr. Shafi on bail under any condition as there were no objections from the CID and the AG’s Department.

Statements to media

Meanwhile, the defence attorney raised concerns over media statements given by certain groups of people, including Buddhist monks, on the case, as those statements could pose a threat to the reconciliation efforts in the country. Since such statements are prejudicial to the defendant, PC Bandara had requested the court to remove those parties from the court premises.

However, the Deputy Solicitor General had objected to the request, pointing out that the victims had a right to know the details of the case and therefore, there was no need to remove them from the court premises. Responding to the Deputy Solicitor General, PC Bandara told the court that the defendant too had a right to know the aggrieved parties and attorneys who appeared for them.

However, the Magistrate had given permission for a request made to issue an order on two electronic media institutions to provide unedited video footage of the statements made by several people following the conclusion of the proceedings on 27 June.

Investigations continue

Furthermore, the Deputy Solicitor General had informed the court that investigations on the allegation of acquiring assets in a suspicious manner were still being conducted by the CID’s Financial Branch, while a separate investigation on the allegations of illegal sterilisations was also being conducted by the CID. However, he had informed the court that there was no proper information to prove the money laundering charges against Dr. Shafi.

Deputy Solicitor General Mudalige stated that investigations into the illegal sterilisation charges came to a halt, owing to the court order which temporarily suspended the HSG (Hysterosalpingography) test which was to be conducted to confirm the allegations.

However, he had also requested the Magistrate to issue an order to the directors of Castle Street Hospital for Women and De Soysa Maternity Hospital to submit a report compiling information on the complications experienced by mothers who underwent the HSG test during the past five years. The Magistrate had given permission for the request.

FR petition

Last month, a fundamental rights (FR) petition was filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of Dr. Shafi, stating the allegations of illegal sterilisations was false and was a result of personal jealousy that stemmed from the purchasing of a block of land in Kurunegala.

The petition was supported by Faiszer Musthapha PC, Hejaaz Hizbullah, Hafeel Farisz, Shifan Maharoof, and M. Jegatheeswary and instructed by Abdeen Associates.

However, on 22 July, the Supreme Court announced that the FR petition filed by Dr. Shafi, who was remanded over multiple charges, would be taken up on 6 August.

It was reported that Deputy Solicitor General Mudalige, appearing for the AG, who is a respondent in the petition, had said that other respondents had not been issued notices to appear before court so far. Accordingly, the Supreme Court instructed the petitioner to serve notices to the respondents instructing them to appear before court during the next hearing of the case.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah said that the last time they went to court, some of the respondents were not in court and that they had not received notices. Therefore, the court wanted them to resend notices to all the other parties to re-support it on 6 August.