BY Dinitha Rathnayake
The Prisons Department and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) have commenced investigations into incidents at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons which involve former Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte, while the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) is likely to begin its own investigation on the matter today (17).
Speaking to The Morning, HRCSL Commissioner Dr. Nimal Karunasiri said that as the initial stage of this investigation, statements would be recorded from prisoners and jailors, in addition to Ratwatte, as well as others who were involved in the incidents.
“We expect to release a report soon, which will be handed over to the respective officials for further investigations,” he added.
The Prisons Department has also commenced an investigation related to both the incidents where the recording of statements has already begun, according to Prisons Department Media Spokesman and Commissioner of Prisons Chandana Ekanayake. Speaking to The Morning, he said that Prisons Commissioner S. Kodithuwakku would lead the investigation on behalf of the Prisons Department.
Late last evening, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd.) Sarath Weerasekera instructed Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana Wickramaratne to immediately investigate the complaint lodged with the CID against State Minister Lohan Ratwatte. The complaint was lodged by the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) earlier in the day and The Morning learns that the investigation is likely to commence today.
These developments came in the wake of multiple factions representing the legal community and the parliamentary and political Opposition calling on the Government to institute legal action against Ratwatte. These included the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the National People’s Power (NPP) from the Parliamentary Opposition, and several other movements.
Ratwatte resigned from the post on 15 September following The Morning’s exclusive revelations of the latter’s engagement in both illegal acts and acts of misconduct within the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. He claimed to have, as per a Tweet by the President’s Spokesman, accepted responsibility for the incidents at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the same Tweet mentioned, had accepted the said resignation.
However, when contacted prior to the resignation, Ekanayake claimed that he knew nothing regarding these incidents. Despite attempts by The Morning, Ratwatte and Prisons Commissioner General (CG) Thushara Upuldeniya were unavailable for comment. When contacted by The Morning, the former Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister’s Media Secretary said that there is no need to give a comment on these incidents since no such incidents as claimed by the media had occurred.
Citing provisions in the Penal Code and Sections 6 (1) and 7 of the Offensive Weapons Act, which provide for those who intentionally aid by any act or illegal omission, the commission of an offence, to be punished, the CPRP has called for Upuldeniya and Ekanayake to be arrested for allegedly aiding and abetting in Ratwatte’s crimes, the dereliction and negligence of their duties, and attempting to cover up the matter through the destruction of evidence by way of the deletion of closed circuit television camera footage.
Meanwhile, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), in a statement issued in this regard, said that they are deeply disturbed at the reports of the alleged criminal conduct on the part of incumbent Gem and Jewellery Related Industries State Minister Ratwatte which seriously call into question his eligibility to hold office in the Government any longer.
“The allegations against him are such that Ratwatte can no longer command the trust or responsibility of not only a Government State Minister charged with duties in respect of prisons, but also as a State Minister holding any other portfolio and as a Member of Parliament. Such acts of impunity are ones that should be investigated fully and impartially, and if proved, be visited with penal consequences. It is imperative that independent and impartial investigations into these alleged criminal acts be conducted expeditiously. The State has a duty to protect prisoners in their custody,” the statement noted.
The BASL also called on all the relevant authorities including the Attorney General (AG) and the law enforcement authorities to act forthwith in dealing with these serious acts of impunity allegedly committed by Ratwatte.
Moreover, Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda said that the President had failed to institute disciplinary action against Ratwatte until the said resignation letter was submitted.
“He still serves as the Gem and Jewellery Related Industries State Minister. This is madness. He should be removed from the MP seat and the State Ministry,” Jayagoda charged.
Jayagoda also lodged a complaint with the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses, highlighting the need for the protection of the rights of prisoners.
Claiming that the resignation of Ratwatte was not at all sufficient, lawyers affiliated to the NPP said that he should be arrested immediately and produced in court.
NPP Member and Attorney-at-Law Sunil Watagala told a media briefing that Ratwatte had also violated the Code of Criminal Procedure.
In its complaint to the CID, the CPRP had cited provisions under the Penal Code, the Firearms Ordinance, the Prisons Ordinance, and the Offensive Weapons Act No. 18 of 1966 as amended with regard to taking a firearm into the premises of prisons and engaging in criminal intimidation (including issuing death threats) using such. CPRP Chairman and Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera said that they had lodged the complaint at around 11 a.m.
Sections 4 (1) (a) and 4 (1) (b) of the Offensive Weapons Act holds that any person who attempts to cause the death of any other person with any offensive weapon but does not cause injury to such person, or who attempts to cause injury to any other person with an offensive weapon, shall be guilty of an offence which is punishable with a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum fine of Rs. 10,000, while Section 4 (2) of the same holds that any person who causes injury to any other person with any offensive weapon is guilty of an offence that is punishable with a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a maximum fine of Rs. 10,000. The CPRP also claimed that the offences committed by Ratwatte were cognizable offences and that therefore, no warrant was required for his arrest.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita, speaking to The Morning, denied the veracity of reports which claimed that Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa had requested Ratwatte to resign from his remaining post as the Gem and Jewellery Related Industries State Minister which was the portfolio he was initially assigned.
“Mahinda Rajapaksa who is in Italy was not involved in any phone conversation related to Ratwatte as the decision came directly from the President,” he said.
Moreover, Youth and Sports, and Development Co-ordination and Monitoring Minister and Digital Technology and Enterprise Development State Minister Namal Rajapaksa visited the Anuradhapura Prison yesterday at around 3 p.m. related to a letter sent by 11 Tamil prisoners to discuss certain immediate concerns.
“On a request by a group of prisoners to meet me, I visited the Anuradhapura Prison to hold talks with them to discuss their concerns. I assured them that I would look into their issues including their rehabilitation and reintegration into society once they are cleared of the charges levelled against them,” he noted on his Twitter account.
According to sources who spoke to The Morning, on 6 September, an inebriated and pistol-brandishing Ratwatte had, together with a group of friends including a beauty pageant contestant (who had allegedly driven the vehicle the group including Ratwatte arrived in), who were also under the influence of liquor (some even falling to the ground) and were inappropriately dressed (in short trousers/shorts), forcibly entered the Welikada Prison premises after 6 p.m. and proceeded to view the gallows. As per Section 39 of the Prisons Ordinance, a Parliamentarian who wishes to pay a visit to a prison can only do so between the hours of 5.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. However when the prison officials had, according to the sources, requested that the beauty pageant contestant not go past the cells where male prisoners are housed owing to her being a female, since the route to the gallows requires one to pass the cells where male prisoners are housed, Ratwatte and his inebriated friends had verbally abused the prison officers, stating that they should not stop her entry and subsequent passage.
On 12 September, a similarly inebriated and pistol-brandishing Ratwatte had, according to sources, flown in a helicopter to the Anuradhapura Prison where he had summoned a group of Tamil political prisoners detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 as amended (reports state between eight to 16 such prisoners), and ordered them to kneel, and had proceeded to threaten two of them including Sulakshan (Prisoner Number 141 whose case is being heard at the Vavuniya High Court) at point blank range, telling them to accept their offence/s and to submit to authority.