ECONOMYNEXT – The government suspects that an “invisible hand” was behind the riots that broke out at the Mahara prison last evening leading to the death of eight people and injuring at least 50, State Minister of Prison Reforms & Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle said.
The state minister told parliament this morning that investigations regarding the incident will be handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to bring the truth to light.
A clash between remand prisoners and convicted prisoners had escalated to a full blown riot, Fernandopulle claimed, adding that it had occurred when prison officials were trying to prevent a number of inmates from escaping the facility by opening fire at them.
She confirmed earlier reports that eight people had died and 50 were injured in the confrontation.
“Yesterday, some inmates tried to escape the Mahara prison, but prison officials were able to stop them by opening fire at them. Meanwhile the remand prisoners, a majority of whom had been remanded for drug cases, clashed with the prison inmates, causing massive damages to the prison properties,” the state minister said.
She added that the police, the riot squad and Special Task Force (STF) were deployed to contain the violence and the situation is now fully under control.
Fernandopulle said a wave of unrest has erupted within prison facilities around the country over the past few months, starting from the Boossa prison. She acknowledged concerns highlighted by opposition lawmakers regarding prisoner health owing to a surge in COVID-19 cases within Sri Lanka’s overcrowded prisons. The island’s prisons have a capacity of 11,000 inmates but, according to the state minister, currently hold 32,000 prisoners owing to a series of recent drug busts.
There are 1,098 COVID-19 patients in prisons at the time of writing, with 386 reported at the Welikada prison, 46 at the Magazine Prison, 157 at the Colombo Remand Prison, 198 in Mahara, 32 at the Kuruwita prison and 175 at the Bogambara prison.
However, the state minister claimed that the government has taken steps to minimise the crowds by directing COVID-19 positive prisoners to the Welikanda Hospital and Polonnaruwa while all women inmates have been moved to the Kandakadu Rehabilitation centre.
Following discussion with the Minister of Justice, she said, a mechanism has been developed to produce alleged drug users who are arrested as drug racketeers to courts where verdicts or bail grants would be sought.
“A presidential pardon was also given to over 600 inmates arrested for minor offences for which fines could not be paid,” she added. (Colombo/Nov30/2020)