Focus/Spotlight

War on drugs intensifies

By Tharumalee Silva

Local authorities have begun using high-tech measures in the war on drugs with even WhatsApp and Viber calls now being monitored, The Sunday Morning learnt.

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) said that it was using video surveillance and phone call monitoring to nab drug dealers and has managed to seize large amounts of drugs as a result.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, PNB Director T.A.C. Dhanapala said: “A total of 532 kg and 687 g of heroin along with a total of 7,100 suspects were arrested within the past two months and a total of 1,304 kg of cannabis was seized and a total of 7,138 individuals arrested so far this year.”

Last Sunday (24), the PNB succeeded in seizing a total of 294 kg and 490 g at a car park in a famous shopping mall in Colpetty. The suspects were aged 43 and 32 and were residents of Keselwatta in Panadura. It was the third largest drug bust in Sri Lanka. The second largest drug haul was uncovered by the PNB a few months ago, last year.

Last Wednesday (27), the PNB succeeded in arresting an individual who was found in possession of 10 kg and 200 g of heroin.

According to the bureau, the individual had 1 kg of heroin in his possession at the time of his arrest in Kuliyapitiya near the Kaburupola junction. Upon interrogation, the bureau was led to the suspect’s house where an additional 9 kg and 200 g of heroin was found hidden in the suspect’s child’s wardrobe.

The suspect was confirmed to be a 27-year-old man named Chamara Hasitha Siriwardena, the main associate of Suranga Senarathna – the famous drug lord currently in the Wariyapola Prison who was arrested for possessing 1 kg and 500 g of heroin and 100 g of methamphetamine (meth) in January, 2018.

Golden Crescent

Dhanapala said the PNB was able to conduct efficient investigations as international and local intelligence services were being updated.
Even though there was a large amount of narcotics in the country in the last few years, the trade had only begun to unravel recently, which was why it seemed like large amounts in narcotics were entering the country as of late.

“With the advancement of technology, the PNB has been able to conduct long-term investigations through video surveillance and phone call monitoring,” Dhanapala said, adding that the PNB’s technology extends to monitoring Whatsapp and Viber calls as well.
According to the PNB Director, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran are the main suppliers of narcotics to Sri Lanka. These countries are called the “Golden Crescent of the Heroin World”.

He confirmed that 90% of narcotics enter the country through sea routes, mainly from Afghanistan. “Being completely surrounded by the sea has been a detrimental factor in this issue,” he said.

Last December, two Bangladeshis were arrested for the possession of 200 kg of heroin, which were worth Rs. 2.4 billion.
Sri Lanka’s biggest drug bust was uncovered last month in a two-storey house in Templers Road, Mount Lavinia. During this, heroin worth Rs. 3.3 billion in the possession of two Bangladeshis was seized.

In 2018, a total of 24 foreigners were arrested for drug-related crime in Sri Lanka – nine Indians, one Nigerian, one German, three Brazilians, one Nepalese, one Seychellois, one Dutch, one Italian, three Maldivians, one Bolivian, and one Pakistani were arrested in total during 2018.

Drugs vs. youth

“Even though the use of cannabis is steadily increasing among youth today, less than 2% of Sri Lanka’s population use narcotics,” Dhanapala said.

He stated that narcotic suppliers mainly target individuals between the ages of 13-19, as it is the age children are most vulnerable, and compel teenagers to get addicted to substances.

On speaking to 20 individuals from the ages of 18-28, 17 of the total 20 individuals admitted to using cannabis as an alternative to cigarettes.
The PNB conducted a total of 13,750 awareness programmes within the island to promote awareness among school children.

With the President’s central focus on drug prevention, capturing drug smugglers and other narcotic users have been a top priorities for the Police.

In relation to the imposition of the death penalty, Dhanapala said that most often, prisoners convicted for drug-related crimes are rehabilitated, and that thus, the death penalty should only be imposed on large-scale drug smugglers.

“With the advancement of technology and the increase in the detection of cases relating to narcotic abuse, the PNB has been able to gain the confidence of the citizens who play a major role in resolving this national crisis,” Dhanapala said.

Cannabis vs. cigarettes

Today’s youth has seen the effect cigarettes have on older generations, and has also been constantly warned of its consequences.
However, with the central focus on cigarettes, they have been misinformed that cannabis is somehow healthier than smoking cigarettes, a reason many individuals illegally practice this act.

Studies show that smoking cannabis has become almost “normal” among young gentlemen. National Dangerous Drug Control Board (NDDCB) Director of Research Bhadrani Senanayake stated: “There has been a high growth rate of cannabis users in the island, and remains one of the biggest issues the country is facing.”

Following many western countries that are legalising consumption, distribution, and production of marijuana or cannabis, there was a growth in supply.

However, in Sri Lanka, cannabis is legally sold through ayurvedic shops that possess a license from the Ministry of Health. Besides this, smoking and consumption of cannabis still remain criminal offences.

There is a high demand in Sri Lanka for marijuana and heroin.

It has become a trend in Sri Lanka where unlicensed individuals sell herbs and tablets that are imported for medicinal purposes. This too is taken into account when considering “dangerous drugs” as these substances are sold in large portions.

Steps for betterment

Senanayake said that since the introduction of the NDDCB hotline – 1984 – by the President two months ago, the NDDCB have been receiving more tips. This has been the most important step in preventing drug-related crimes.

“Curiosity, western influence, and increase in supply are many factors that influence Sri Lankan youth to abuse substances,” she added.
“In 2018, there was a large discovery of narcotics due to investigations and efficient and productive work conducted by the Sri Lanka PNB and the NDDCB together with the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention,” Senanayake said.

She stated that Sri Lanka has been made a “transit point” for drug smugglers and many drugs enter the country through ships and boats rather than by air.

She stated that since the capture of “Makandure Madush”, the supply for drugs had been considerably affected, causing an increase in the prices of narcotics.

There were a total of 57,016 cases last year and a total of 57,059 individuals arrested in 2018, according to statistics.