Opposition Leader calls for impartial, independent inquiry into Mahara prison shooting

Sajith Premadasa at Parliament of Sri Lanka

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa yesterday called for an independent and impartial inquiry into the unrest at the Mahara prison on Sunday night which left eight prisoners dead and scores injured.

Speaking in Parliament last morning, Premadasa said that a committee headed by the Secretary to the State Ministry of Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitations which has been appointed is unlikely to result in a fair inquiry.

“A committee headed by the Secretary to the Ministry is unacceptable. Not only do we have to find out the reason for the unrest but also as to how a COVID-19 clusters formed inside prisons and why proper health guidelines were not put in place,” Premadasa said.

JVP Leader MP Anura Dissanayake too backed a thorough investigation into the incident and said that the Government is responsible for the lives of prisoners as they are in the custody of the State.

“Prisoners have been agitating for several days over fears that COVID-19 is spreading in prisons. Their demand that all prisoners be tested for the coronavirus were ignored and this led to the unrest. More than 1,000 prisoners have so far tested positive with over 180 of them in Mahara,” he said.

State Minister of Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Sudarshini Fernandopulle said that the Government is prepared to hold an independent inquiry as it was also keen to find out what led to the unrest and if any hidden forces were behind instigating the inmates.

She said most of the prisoners at Mahara are in remand for drug related offences and the spate of arrests of drug dealers and users in recent months has led to a sharp rise in the numbers in remand prisons.

As of yesterday, a total of 1,098 prisoners had tested positive for COVID-10. These include 386 from Welikada, 46 from Magazine Prisons, 157 from Colombo, 198 from Mahara, 32 from Kuruwita and 175 from Bogambara.

She said the first cases were detected in the woman’s section of the Welikada prison and as most are related to drug offenders, they are being treated at the Kandakadu rehabilitation centre while others are at Welikanda and Polonnaruwa COVID-19 treatment centres.

Fernandopulle said that the Government has taken measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons after the outbreak of the coronavirus by granting presidential pardons around 600 prisoners, reducing court visits by adapting video conferring to connect with courts etc. She said visit of outsiders including family members to prison is also restricted.

Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa said that the unrest at the Mahara Prison was a well-planned incident to discredit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“This incident is not a result of overcrowding in prisons. This is a carefully executed attempt to show that when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Defence Secretary this happened and now he is President the same thing is happening and bringing him into international disrepute,” Weerawansa said.

He said that the intelligence services had got information that a man by the name of ‘Chaturanga’ who was a close confidante of the slain drug dealer Samayan had introduced a tablet which is colloquially known as ‘reverse’ to prisoners.

“Once they take the tablets, they have a desire to see blood. They did this experiment and wanted to start a riot at Welikada. Those behind Chaturanga are a group of powerful drug dealers who are inside prison now,” he claimed.

Weerawansa added that the intelligence services got wind of this and Chaturanga was transferred to another prison while several others linked to it were also transferred so they could not create the unrest at Welikada.

“Unfortunately, they managed to carry out a backup plan at Mahara,” he added.

(Source: Daily FT)