BY Dinitha Rathnayake and Azzam Ameen
The report of the Prisons Department investigation into alleged incidents of drunkenness and threatening of Tamil political prisoners by former State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte, whilst at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, is to be handed over to Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya within two weeks.
Prisons Department Media Spokesman and Commissioner of Prisons (Admin and Rehabilitation) Chandana Ekanayake, speaking to The Morning, said that Prisons Commissioner S. Kodithuwakku, who led the investigation on behalf of the Prisons Department, would hand over the report to Commissioner General of Prisons Upuldeniya.
Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Ali Sabry has appointed High Court (HC) Judge (Retd.) Kusala Sarojani Weerawardena to conduct an independent inquiry into the recent incidents at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons involving Ratwatte.
In addition to the Prisons Department probe, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), on a suo motu basis (on its own accord), and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the latter acting on a complaint lodged by the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP), have already commenced investigations related to both the incidents, where the recording of statements commenced last week.
Meanwhile, in the wake of allegations levelled by the CPRP of moves underway to delete CCTV camera footage pertaining to the incidents, the installation of CCTV cameras in the Welikada Prison is to be completed within a few months, claimed Ekanayake. He said that neither the Welikada Prison nor the Anuradhapura Prison is currently equipped with a CCTV camera system and that CCTV cameras are only in place at the Angunakolapelessa, Boossa (24 hours), and Kalutara Prisons.
“We installed CCTV cameras in the Kalutara Prison two months ago, and since both the Boossa and Angunakolapelessa Prisons are high and maximum security facilities, they are equipped with the CCTV systems.”
The Prisons Department further stated that the installation of CCTV cameras at the Welikada Prison Complex, which also houses the Magazine Prison, the Remand Prison, the Female Ward, and the Prison Hospital, and at the Mahara and Negombo Prisons commenced three months ago.
“The Welikada Prison is located across 40 acres and installing CCTV cameras on this site, therefore, is not an easy task.”
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 (some even falling to the ground) and were inappropriately dressed (in short trousers/shorts), had 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 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 then proceeded to threaten two of them, including Sulakshan (Prisoner Number 141, whose case is being heard at the Vavuniya HC), at point blank range, telling them to accept their offence/s and to submit to authority.