No prisoner died due to gunshot wounds - Minister | Sunday Observer
Prison mayhem:

No prisoner died due to gunshot wounds - Minister

6 December, 2020

State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte said that no inmate was shot dead inside the Mahara Prison during the unrest that occurred on November 29. He told Parliament that the inmates had died due to the clash that had occurred among prison inmates on the day.

“No inmate died due to being shot by prison guards. All who had died were due to clashes between inmates. Guards have fired some rounds but no one has died from gunshot wounds. It has been proven through the post mortem” he said.

According to prison officials, several underworld gangs had been involved in the clash that occurred on the day. They allege that incarcerated accomplices of underworld figures Gonakovile Roha, Maligawatta Suresh, Ganemulla Sanjeewa and Ranketiya had clashed with each other resulting in the large-scale unrest.

The prison unrest left eleven inmates dead and around 106 persons including inmates and prison officials injured. Twenty-eight inmates are being treated at the Ragama Teaching Hospital, 24 at the Welikada Prison Hospital and another at the Colombo National Hospital. Fifty-three inmates with minor injuries have been treated and taken back to the Mahara Prison.

Investigations have been stepped up on the incident. The Police have increased the number of members in the team appointed by the CID to investigate the Mahara prison incident from 12 to 20.

Police investigations into the incident were handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) by IGP C.D Wickramaratne. The Police have already recorded almost 78 statements from witnesses on the prison clash.

According to Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, the CID had recorded statements from 26 inmates. He also said CID investigators have recorded statements from doctors employed at the Mahara Prison hospital, nurses and jailors including the Chief jailor. He said investigations are continuing to ascertain if any person or group from outside the prison had connections to the unrest and if anyone had provoked the prisoners to act in such a manner leading to the incident.

The five-member committee appointed by the Minister of Justice Ali Sabri, President’s Counsel, to investigate the incident, commenced their investigations at the Mahara Prison on Thursday (3) morning. The committee is chaired by retired High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena, U.R. De Silva PC, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Justice Rohana Hapugaswatte, former Commissioner of Prisons Gamini Jayasinghe and former Senior DIG Lalinda Ranaweera.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) releasing its initial report on the incident identified three main reasons for the protest by prisoners at the Mahara Prison and the ensuing clashes.

“When we went there, there was no order, no system, no order on how things took place, who would make decisions,” Human Rights Commission Commissioner Ramani Muttetuwegama had told a media outlet.

According to Muttetuwegama, heavy congestion, fear of the spread of Covid and the agitation against it were the causes of the conflict that killed 11 inmates at the Mahara prison.

“Prison authorities were afraid to deal with this because of the corona problem,” she said.

The Human Rights Commission has released the preliminary report following inquiries conducted into the incident on November 30 and December 1. A key recommendations of the report is that immediate action should be taken to reduce congestion in prisons, including the Mahara Prison.

“All things considered, overcrowding is the biggest problem. I have been to many places like that but I have never seen such congestion anywhere,” said Muttetuwegama. While the capacity of the Mahara Prison is 1,000 over 2,500 are housed in it. The Commissioner said that some inmates of the Mahara Prison could have been easily released on bail.

While the situation at the Mahara Prison is now under control, the Secretary of Defence, Major General (Rtd.) Kamal Gunaratne said 189 inmates have tested positive for Covid-19. He said measures have been taken to provide them facilities and arrangements have been made to send nearly 100 detainees who have been released on bail after PCR testing.

Following the incident Minister Ratwatte has said to reduce the congestion in Sri Lankan prisons, the Ministry of Prison Management and Rehabilitation will intervene and supervise the release of all prisoners who are incarcerated for minor offenses and are unable to pay fines to reduce congestion in all prisons. He also instructed to expedite the rapid antigen testing of inmates in all other prisons, including Mahara Prison, by formulating a special program to protect the prison premises and the health condition of the inmates.