The Sunday Leader

Government Criticised Over Prison Unrest

By Chrishanthi Christopher
Sri Lanka’s deadliest prison riot happened just over a week ago, and the government has been facing heavy criticisms from human rights groups, international community and local political parties over the violent ending, which saw the deaths of 27 inmates. What started as a routine check for contraband, ended in a night of gun-fire.
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P.W. Koddippili
Commissioner of Prisons
The two protests by prisoners earlier in the year are separate incidents.  This we are concerned and are awaiting the commission’s report to take action.
The prisoners use many ploys to bring in contrabands into the cells. These things are brought in when they go to courts. There they arrange with their families and friends to obtain such items. They use their rectum to hide the mobiles, heroin and even tobacco.  Sometimes they even insert two to three mobile phones. The Intelligence Unit at the gate is not able to detect these. We do not have dogs to sniff in the heroin or sophisticated hi-tech machines to scan mobile phones or other items that may be hidden in the body.  We check them only manually that is why we need help. May be some of the prison guards are against outsiders coming into check the premises. But according to the prison act we can call the police when needed. But only our guards were conducting the search and the STF and the TID were only standing by.
Also I never said that the Ministry of Defence should take over the prisons department. I categorically deny it. It has been fabricated by the media.

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Prathiba Mahanama Hewa
Human Rights Commission
We are against human rights violations no matter whether they are prisoners. They too have a right to live.  The relatives of the deceased prisoners have lodged complaints to the Human rights Commission.  According to the 1996 Human rights act we are empowered to do investigation on prisoner’s death while in centres.  We will conduct an inquiry and an investigation and submit a report.
The United Nations convention for prisoners demands that minimum standards be maintained for prisoners in jail. This incident has happened under the guardianship of the prison authority. This is not the first time that such incidents happened – it happened in Bindunuwewa, Welikada and in Vavuniya in the past.  Following this we did some investigations and submitted a report but the government ignored it.  Out of the 27,500 prisoners in the island 60 per cent are in prison for taking drugs. These people should be sent to detention or corrective centres where there is chance for them to be rehabilitated.  Not to prison where they mix with hard core prisoners and adopt their violent ways.  There are over 10,000 prisoners for over ten years in prison with no case been filed.  It is important to expedite cases and solve the problems of crowding in prisons.
The prison needs extra security. CCTV cameras and x-ray machines have to be installed. We have recommended all this in our report we submitted early this year.
We will investigate again and give recommendations to the government to find solutions to the problem.

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D. S. Vithanage
Secretary, Ministry of Prison reforms & Rehabilitation

The Minister has appointed a three-member committee consisting of a retired high court judge and two other members to investigate and report on the incident.  The report will have recommendations for remedial actions and we will act on it. This incident cannot be compared with the previous prison riots as this is a separate incident. We are looking into the shortage of staff and will be recruiting more.  As for the hi-tech equipment we have financial difficulties. We will be purchasing a scanner soon; we are waiting for a government allocation.

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Ravi Karunanayake
UNP MP

This is a sad situation for the government. It is an incompetent government. They cannot even protect the prisoners.  Where do you get this culture of armoured cars going into the prisons premises and spraying bullets? Who had given the order? The international community is watching.
Many who died are not hard core criminals as claimed by the government.  In the Colombo district there were three funerals. Two of them were only half a kilo meter from the prisons. One person who died happened to be in remand because of a common traffic offence. He could not find Rs. 13,200/- to pay the fine and he was in jail.
Everybody has a right to live – even common criminals are people. The government’s basic performance is governing and what should be done is not being done.

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Vijitha Herath
JVP MP

The jailors and the prison guards are responsible for the mishap.  It is their responsibility and duty to protect the prisoners under their custody. The government is ruling the country and the people, using the army and the STF. This is not good.
The forces were in schools, in construction work, selling vegetables, in dengue prevention and now in prisons. In the future the government might even appoint the judiciary from military officers. This situation would not have arisen if the government had not sent in the forces for the search.
We do not know what really happened – we need information. There are hidden facts, only the prisoners can tell. But they are not allowed to talk. They wanted to kill prisoners who are harmful to the government. There is clear evidence that there were political informants – the prisoners have been questioned about their offences and sentences only the previous day. They have sent messages to their relatives to this effect.
We cannot rely on the government investigation – the real truth will never come out.  Only a people’s court can do justice. The three member commission appointed is a sham – the majority of the members are on the government side and we can guess the outcome.  There are so many commissions appointed to probe into – the Bharatha Lakshman’s killing at Kolonnawa, the Kahawatte killings and now the Impeachment of the chief justice. The people need to know the truth.  The people are watching, their attitude will change and eventually they will take a good decision regarding the government.

3 Comments for “Government Criticised Over Prison Unrest”

  1. Yogaseelan.R

    Why not put MR in Wellikadai prisons so that his executive powers may guard the prisoners.

  2. Alwisg

    Much of what these people say needs to be taken with the usual – dare I say – ton of salt – so to speak. Everyone would know that they are playing petty politics and in their heart of hearts are happy with the way this riot was handled. If the prisoners decide to riot they must face the consequences. This was NOT a peaceful demonstration but a violent and extremely dangerous incident which had to be handled swiftly and professionally which I believe it was, thanks to the STF. Many of these prisoners were in there for seriously heinous crimes. They simply HAD to be controlled and contained as otherwise they would be let loose into society to certainly become repeat offenders. There is always such sanctimonious hypocrisy among the ignorant and such like in these instances. Best that they keep their simplistic ideas to themselves without exposing their total lack of concern for the public and their safety. Alwis

  3. Jayantha

    All these guys talk , talk n talk no action can take , this is Sri Lankans abilities

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