ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has called for State Minister of Prison Management Lohan Ratwatte to be sacked and charged over allegations of entering and threatening inmates of a prison.
Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) MP Gajen Ponnambalam first made the allegation on Twitter on Tuesday (14) when he claimed the “state minister for prisons” had “gone to the Anuradhapura prisons, summoned the Tamil political prisoners and had got two of them to kneel in front of him.”
“The State Minister had then pointed his personal firearm at them and had threatened to kill them on the spot,” the MP claimed.
The TNA called for an immediate inquiry to be followed by charges filed against the state minister.
We call on the government to immediately remove the State Minster for Prison Management and have him arrested and charged after an immediate inquiry for allegedly threatening to kill prisoners in Anuradhapura prison on Sunday 12th September
— TNAMedia (@TNAmediaoffice) September 14, 2021
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has also called for removal of a “government minister” following the incident at the Prison.
“I vehemently condemn the disgraceful and illegal behaviour of a government minister at the Anuradhapura Prison Complex. This disgusting, unlawful act amply exemplifies the anarchical situation that exists in our country,” he tweeted.
“It is incumbent upon this government to protect the human rights of all citizens of our motherland. This unlawful and despicable act is a further illustration of the precipitous decline in the present human rights situation in our country,” he added.
There was no immediate comment from Minister Ratwatte. Nor was he available for comment.
The state minister’s alleged actions come as Sri Lanka’s human rights record is being scrutinised at the ongoing 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had on Monday (13) raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s conduct in addressing past alleged human rights violations. Bachelet said her office has begun to implement the accountability-related aspects of the March resolution 46/1 – a move flatly rejected by the Sri Lankan government.
United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy tweeted that the State is obligated to protect the rights of prisoners.
It is the duty of the State, as per the #MandelaRules, to protect the rights of prisoners. In our work on prison reform and drug rehabilitation @UNSriLanka works to strengthen capacities to uphold the rights of all those in custody & condemns any ill treatment of #prisoners.
— Hanaa Singer-Hamdy (@SingerHanaa) September 15, 2021
The Tamil prisoners, reportedly ex-combatants of the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were allegedly threatened by the state minister had been detained under provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a piece of legislation that the UNHRC and other international oganisations have been increasingly critical of.
MP Ponnambalam said Tamil political prisoners are “already traumatised for being held in detention under one of the most draconian pieces of legislation known to the world, the PTA.”
Former Sri Lanka Human Rights Commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan, meanwhile, said persons held under the PTA are vulnerable to discrimination, harassment or violence in prison.
Citing inmate accounts, Satkunanathan said policies and actions of the government of the day impact how guards other prisoners treat them.