By Buddhika Samaraweera
Claiming the ongoing investigations into recent incidents involving the former Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte are not at a satisfactory level, the March 12 Movement (M12M), which advocates for a clean political culture, has requested that an independent committee with a membership respected by society be appointed to investigate the matter.
In a media statement, M12M Convener Rohana Hettiarachchi said that there would not be much public confidence in the ongoing investigation into the incidents led by a Commissioner of the Prisons Department, which is one of the parties associated with the incidents.
In the statement, the M12M claimed that Ratwatte’s resignation from the post of Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister clearly shows that the latter was involved in the incidents at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons.
“Considering the incidents that have already been reported by the local media, this resignation should not be a factor in ignoring the seriousness of the incidents. Therefore, the M12M expresses its strong displeasure at the whole series of incidents and we also emphasise that an expeditious and impartial course of action must be taken to investigate the allegations against Ratwatte,” the statement further read.
It also read: “It is important to note that if the media reports are correct, the Prisons Commissioner General (CG) Thushara Upuldeniya, who has remained silent on the incident, as well as its Spokesman, who said that he knew nothing, have tragically challenged the independent and impartial existence of public officials.”
The M12M further claimed that it was unbelievable that the Police is remaining silent without initiating any investigation and without questioning the suspect, despite the fact that various associations and organisations as well as activists, including the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), have already called for an impartial inquiry into the incident. Therefore, the M12M emphasised that it is the duty of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to restore the rule of law which it claimed is gradually disappearing in the country.
The M12M added that the “unbelievable silence” of the leaders of political parties was one of the main reasons for the creation of such an unpleasant political culture in the country and requested the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to suspend Ratwatte’s Party membership and take appropriate action to review his lack of discipline.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has commenced investigations into incidents at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons which involve Ratwatte.
HRCSL Commissioner Dr. Nimal Karunasiri recently told The Morning 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 had also commenced an investigation related to both the incidents where the recording of statements had already begun, according to Prisons Department Media Spokesman and Prisons Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake.
Speaking to The Morning on an earlier occasion, he said that Prisons Commissioner S. Kodithuwakku would lead the investigation on behalf of the Department. It is meanwhile learnt that Prisons Commissioner General Upuldeniya has yesterday (20) visited the Anuradhapura Prison to speak to the detainees and witnesses in connection with the incident.
Meanwhile, Public Security Minister, Rear Admiral (Retd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera had recently instructed IGP Chandana D. Wickramaratne to immediately investigate the complaint lodged with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) against Ratwatte. The complaint was lodged by the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) on 16 September.
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 winner (who had allegedly driven the vehicle the group including Ratwatte arrived in), who were also under the influence of liquor and were 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 winner 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), ordered them to kneel, and had proceeded to threaten two of them, including Madhiarsan Sulakshan (Prisoner Number 141 whose case is being heard at the Vavuniya High Court) and Ganeshan Dharshan, at point blank range telling them to accept their offence/s and to submit to authority. Ratwatte subsequently resigned, claiming responsibility for said incidents, according to a President’s Media Division statement issued in this regard. However, in subsequent comments to the media, he has maintained his innocence.