Sitting It Out On Death Row
By Nirmala Kannangara
Fifty eight year old Zhang Li of Lao Ling, China is one of the three female prisoners in death row at Welikada prison. Having come to Sri Lanka in early January 2003 in search of an employment, Li was arrested in Kandy on January 25, 2003 – on Chinese New Year day. “I was running a Chinese restaurant in Dehiwela. I decided to go to Kandy to celebrate our national event. According to her she has left Dehiwela at 8.30 am on January 25 and had reached Kandy in a taxi. “In the afternoon I went to a lodge and while resting, a team of police officers came with three men and two women and arrested me for a murder,” she said. Although she denied having any hand in the murder, the Welikada prison officials told The Sunday Leader that she was involved murdering a fellow Chinese national in Kollupitiya.
“She has taken the body in the taxi to Kandy and some people have seen her throwing the body in a jungle. On a tip off the police arrested her the same evening at a lodge,” added the officials. Bibi is now a condemned prisoner who has no hopes for the future. She is a mother of three, a 27 year old daughter and two sons aged 22 and 17 years. She says she has no contact with her children anymore. Zenna Bibi is 48 years old and is from Punjab, Pakistan. She had been arrested at the Colombo International Airport on May 7, 2009 trying to smuggle heroin into the country.
“I am come from a very poor family in Punjab and had to bring up three daughters and two sons. My husband who did odd jobs died of a heart a ttack nine years ago. I was pushed from pillar to post when my husband – the sole breadwinner passed away at an unexpected time,” Bibi told The Sunday Leader. Convicted for possessing and attempting to smuggle 500 grams of heroin into the country, Bibi was in tears when she spoke to The Sunday Leader. She is longing to get released and go back to Punjab to re-unite with her children, mother and brother. “When I was looking out for odd jobs to keep the hearth burning, I found this ‘Sir’ – a Pakistani national who assured me that I will be well paid if I can smuggle drugs. He also said that there was not much work for me to do but to take the small packet that he gave me to an address in Kollupitiya. I was told that a boy will come to take the parcel and that I could return back the following day. Since there were no much restrictions in Pakistan for heroine like in Sri Lanka I thought that drug trafficking would not be an issue,” said Bibi.
Bibi was so relieved when she could pass through the Pakistan Airport thinking that she could be able to enter Sri Lanka without any hassle from the Colombo Airport. “When I was arrested at the airport, I gave the contact number of ‘Sir’ in Pakistan. However all attempts to contact him there after was unsuccessful,” said Bibi. Jasmine is a 30 year old Iranian married to Ahmar Mahir a Sri Lankan Muslim. According to her, she and her husband were convicted for a false complaint made by two Russian females who were arrested at the infamous Liberty Plaza brothel raid.
“My husband was a tourist driver and had met these two at Kollupitiya on many occasions. When they were arrested last year, there was no one to come forward to sign for surety for them. My husband paid Rs. 250,000 each for them. Later they have made a false complaint against my husband for keeping their passports with him which was not true. Their passports were in courts by that time. The CID arrested both of us and was produced at the Fort Magistrates Court the following day and we got bail” said Jasmine. According to Jasmine, their case was later heard in High Court and her husband was remanded by the Magistrate for transporting women to the brothel house. “By this time my elder son was 4 years and the younger son was two months. When the trial was going on I did not know what was happening as it was not heard in English nor I was told as to what they were talking about as I cannot understand Sinhalese. Finally the judgment was delivered against us on March 28, 2011 and both of us were sent here for 9 years,” disappointed Jasmine told The Sunday Leader.
When asked as to who is looking after her children, Jasmine said the younger child who is now two years is with her in Welikada prison while the elder son is with a friend of her husband.
“He is now six years old but not going to school. We cannot find fault with the friend for not sending the child to school as long as they look after the child well until we are released,” said Jasmine. “Had the court translated its proceeding then I would have known the reason for the conviction. I have a doubt about the whole process,” claimed Jasmine. Forty one year old Sameena Begum of Karachi, Pakistan had come to Sri Lanka many times to take ready-made garments for business. On this particular visit in March 2003, one Abdulla Manna – a person known to her had given some parcels of sweets to be given to a friend in Sri Lanka. “Even I too tasted those sweets and when I arrived at the Colombo airport the custom officers wanted me to put these packets on to a table. They then cut them one by one and heroin was found in the tenth packet.
That was the first time I saw heroin and when they said that it was drugs I did not believe as there are similar powder in Pakistan that gives to women after child birth. Since I thought that it was this powder, I tasted this in front of the customs officers,” said Sameena. Sameena is a mother of three and has not informed the family about she been in jail. She has been convicted but has appealed in the Negombo High Court requesting a pardon. “I have four unmarried sisters and my children too are now big. If I tell that I was taken into custody it would not be good for their future. That is why I did not inform them what happened to me. They may be thinking that I am dead,” she added.
Yana is a 28 year old Ukrainian teacher now a murder suspect in remand prison. She had come to Sri Lanka in February 2010 spent a week long holiday with her boy friend and was on their way to Maldives for a vacation when they were arrested at the Colombo airport. “We were to leave on February 23 but were arrested for an alleged murder. I came to the prison on February 25. I do not know anything about this and was not involved in a murder. I cannot trust any one now even my boy friend. Why did this happen to me,” she laments. She was pretty and was disappointed for being kept in remand for some thing she has not even dream of. “I taught English and Greek in school and cannot eat the food that is given in remand. I cannot expect good food either. I am not used to Sri Lankan food. I cannot suffer any more and wish I could die at any moment,” said Yana. According to the prison officers, Yana and her boy friend were involved in murdering a child of a millionaire in Wellawatte.