Covid-related unrest in Prisons grow as escaping inmate in Kandy is shot dead

ECONOMYNEXT – Prisoners in many jails in Sri Lanka are uneasy because of the Covid 19 spread in the institutions and the incident this morning where an inmate was shot dead in Kandy was partly caused by this unrest, activists advocating Prisoners’ Rights say.

The Chairman of the Committee Protecting the Rights of Prisoners Senaka Perera told EconomyNext that the diagnosing of hundreds of prisoners as being Covid positive has led to this unrest.

The National Task Force to combat the Covid pandemic said this morning that a total of 505 inmates have tested positive since October 5.

Sri Lanka’s Prisons are notoriously overcrowded and as a result infections such as the novel coronavirus which is now spreading ferociously in the country could possibly devastate the Prisons system Perera warns.

The government has formed a task force under the Justice Ministry to deal with the crisis to reduce overcrowding in the jails.

In the wee hours of this morning, Prison guards opened fire as a group of five inmates, who were in remand custody and held at the transit centre in Bogambara attempted to flee officials said.

Prisons Commissioner-General Thushara Upuldeniya told reporters at a mid-morning Press conference in Colombo that when the 5 men had attempted to escape in the wee hours of the morning Prison guards had opened fire and two men had fallen off the wall.

One of them had succumbed to his injuries while another had been badly injured and admitted to the National Hospital in Kandy, Upuldeniya said.

Two others had been caught but a third man who escaped was nabbed in the afternoon ago in Kandy town, Upuldeniya was quoted by media as saying.

The escapee was part of a five-member group who had attempted to flee the jail which is being described as an “interim detention centre” for inmates who have been exposed to the Covid 19 virus.

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The centuries-old Bogambara Prison has not been functioning as a detention centre for some years as plans have been made to convert it into a Mall under a Japanese-funded rejuvenation of Kandy as a pilgrim city.

The Prisons have been moved to Pallekelle, completely outside the City but after the Covid 19 pandemic, some of the cells of the old jail have been used to detain new inmates as a quarantine centre

Citizens of Kandy are angry about the use of the old prison as a quarantine centre and Opposition Member of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella has charged that it is posing a threat to the city of Kandy and the whole district.

Kiriella, a local MP, told reporters on Monday that the new quarantine centre established in the former Bogambara Prison with 800 prison inmates is a threat to Kandy as it is situated in the centre of the city and its staff are interacting with the city daily.

Activist Perera said that prisoners at Welikada also are staging protests over the lack of food and facilities brought on by the Covid threat.

Many prisoners depend on food and other items brought to them by family members as the Prison meals are often inadequate but the Covid pandemic has forced the Prison administrators to limit interactions with family members.

Last week women inmates in the fresh intake ward at Welikada, the country’s biggest jail, staged a protest after around 25 inmates tested positive. (Colombo, November 18, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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