News

RTI Comm. quizzes Police over withholding ‘expired’ tear gas info

  • IGP refuses to divulge information, citing national security

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

The Right to Information (RTI) Commission questioned the Police yesterday (6) as to how an officer of the Police Legal Division who appeared before the commission yesterday could refuse to provide information regarding the alleged use of expired tear gas during the recent protests, when the Commanding Officer of the Police Field Force Headquarters had appeared on behalf of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) on an earlier occasion and promised to provide the relevant information.
The RTI Commission questioned the Police in this manner when an appeal related to a request for information made by Journalist Tharindu Iranga Jayawardhana and the research team of the Centre for Society and Religion regarding the alleged use of expired tear gas, tear gas being fired during protests, and the purchase of tear gas, was taken up yesterday.
The Commanding Officer of the Police Field Force Headquarters, who represented the IGP before the RTI Commission on the previous occasion, had then promised to provide the relevant information within 10 days, and had also sent letters to all divisional officers of the Police, including the relevant directors, to collect the information. However, Jayawardhana informed the RTI Commission that through a letter dated 30 September, IGP Chandana D. Wickramaratne had refused to provide the relevant information.
Representing IGP Wickramaratne, Police Legal Division Legal Advice Division Officer-In-Charge Inspector of Police Wasantha Kumara stated that the IGP had refused to provide the information, as the provision of such would harm national security and territorial integrity.
At this point, the commission questioned the basis on which the Police is refusing to provide information once again, when the Commanding Officer of the Police Field Force Headquarters, who appeared before the RTI Commission on the previous hearing, had agreed to provide the relevant information within a period of 10 days. The RTI Commission also stated that the explanations of the officers representing the IGP are contradictory.
In relation to the request for information about the years in which the tear gas that was fired in recent days was purchased, the IGP had stated in writing that due to the existence of legal proceedings in courts, the said information could not be released without consulting the Attorney General (AG). However, the RTI Commission emphasised that there is no provision in the RTI Act about such consultation of the AG, and that under the relevant Act, information can only be withheld under its Fifth Section. The Commission also queried as to whether the Legal Division of the Police was unaware of the RTI Act, and noted that the commission had also held training programmes for the Police in this regard.
Jayawardhana stated that out of the 13 items mentioned in his information request, complete information had been provided only for one item, while false information had been provided for one item i.e. the request for information regarding expired tear gas, while partial information had been provided for several items, and also that no information had been provided for three items. Taking into account the matter, he requested the RTI Commission in writing to file cases under the RTI Act against the Police and related officials for providing false and misleading information, and for concealing information.
The Commission concluded the hearing of the appeal and adjourned the announcement of the decision of the RTI Commission to 27 October.
The appeal was heard before the Commissioners of the RTI Commission, Supreme Court Judge (Retd.) Justice Upali Abeyratne, Judge (Retd.) Rohini Walgama, and Attorneys Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and Jagath Liyanaarachchi. The appellant was represented by Attorneys Suren D. Perera and Manushika Cooray.