ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan authorities are being faulted by the country’s Human Rights Council for the deaths of eleven inmates at the Mahara prison saying that adequate precautions to quarantine Covid 19 positive inmates had not been taken leading to unrest among the prisoners.
The deaths occurred last weekend when a number of Covid positive inmates were transferred to the Mahara prison from the country’s main jail at Welikada.
“If the authorities had responded to prison officials’ concerns to this proposed transfer and had, instead, set up a separate treatment facility for prisoners, this clash and the subsequent deaths could have been completely avoided,” the HRCSL said.
Prison officials said that due to the unrest, fights had broken out between prisoners and jail guards had opened fire to control the prisoners.
Some of the inmates had allegedly set fire to the record room of the prison during the rioting.
The HRCSL, prisoner rights groups and prison officials have reiterated that measures need to be taken o reduce overcrowding in the prisons.
There are some 32,000 prisoners incarcerated in Sri Lanka’s jails which have an official capacity of 11,000 according to a statement made by the Justice Minister in Parliament.
The Covid situation has increased the risk of unrest in the jammed jails as inmates are fearful of newcomers and want to avoid being in the same cell as them.
Several months ago President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set up a committee which released several thousand inmates under the existing regulations.
However the overcrowding issue remains a danger, Senaka Perera, President of the Committee for Prisoners Rights said.
Senior Attorney U R L de Silva, who has been appointed by the President as a consultant to the Justice Ministry to look into the issue said a scheme is being worked out to reduce overcrowding in an interview with EconomyNext.
Meanwhile, Perera and other Human Rights organisations won a court order to prevent the cremation of the remains of the Prisoners who died and were deemed to be Covid positive.
“We did not want the evidence of how these prisoners died erased by cremation,” he told EconomyNext.
Cremation of the remains of Covid positive patients is mandatory under Sri Lankan regulations.
Perera has sent a lengthy letter with regard to the issue facing the Sri Lanka prisons in the time of Covid to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
In that letter, they have enumerated the various steps that they feel must be taken to protect the rights and the lives of prison inmates in Sri Lanka.
This week the spokesman for the Cabinet of Ministers Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters that the government takes full responsibility for the Mahara incidents. (Colombo, December 5, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana