NPP Parliamentarian Dr. Harini Amarasuriya and former MP Hirunika Premachandra accuse prison authorities of mistreating actress cum “Aragalaya” activist Damitha Abeyratne after visiting her at Welikada Jail

By Buddhika Samaraweera

National People’s Power (NPP) MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya and former MP Hirunika Premachandra accused the prison authorities of mistreating actress Damitha Abeyratne, who was arrested and then placed in remand custody for allegedly forcibly entering the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo during the massive public protests in July.

Dr. Amarasuriya, after visiting the Welikada Prison last Saturday (10) to inquire about the well-being of Abeyratne, told the media that she had to wait outside for more than 45 minutes to enter the prison. Noting that she, as an MP, is entitled to visit prisoners, she said that it is however questionable as to why the prison authorities did not allow her to enter for a long period of time.

“I came to see Abeyratne, but the prison officials did not allow me to go in for a long time. They said that they can’t allow me to go in without permission from the Chief Jailor.

However, as Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa and MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne came to see Abeyratne, the prison officials allowed me to visit her. They did so as they couldn’t say no to me when Premadasa and Dr. Senaratne were allowed to see her. Until this happens, I have to wait for about 45 minutes.” she explained.

Speaking further, Dr. Amarasuriya said that after meeting Abeyratne, she came to know that the latter was not well. She said that a medical officer had examined her (Abeyratne) and recommended that she be admitted to hospital, but the Prison authorities had, as of last Saturday evening, not taken steps to admit her to a hospital. When she inquired about the matter from a female official there, she said that the relevant official had informed her that instructions had not yet been given to admit Abeyratne to hospital.

Meanwhile, Premachandra had also visited the Welikada Prison to look into Abeyratne’s well-being, after which she accused the Prison authorities of mistreating Abeyratne and other prisoners.

“Abeyratne is detained with four females who have been sentenced to death. The Prison authorities claim that she can’t be detained in a normal cell as there may be threats to her life, but the prisoners there love her so much. She has not committed any crime, so there can’t be any threats to her life as claimed by the authorities.

Also, she had wanted to use the toilet early Saturday morning, and she had only been taken out of the cell after screaming for a long time. There is only one toilet for more than 100 prisoners. She has been given some bread with spoiled dhal curry, and she has fallen ill after that,” claimed Premachandra.\

Claiming that the condition of prisons is very poor, she said that there should be immediate action to address such issues. She said that although the prisoners who have power and money get all facilities such as medical assistance, food, and chances to visit their families and friends, prisoners who have no such power and money, like Abeyratne, are not getting such chances. Referring to the term on the wall of Welikada Prison which reads “Prisoners are human beings as well”, Premchandra said that the term should be replaced with “Prisoners with money are human beings”.

Prisons Department Commissioner General Thushara Upuldeniya was not available for comment. When contacted, Media Spokesman of the Department and Prisons Commissioner – Administration and Rehabilitation Chandana Ekanayake said that the department would issue an official statement on the allegations levelled by Dr. Amarasuriya and Premachandra.

Abeyratne, who has been at the forefront of the protests which earlier demanded the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and then the resignation of incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, was arrested by the Police on 7 September for allegedly forcibly entering the Presidential Secretariat during the public protests in July. The arrest has seen great opposition from several parties including political and civil organisations. Abeyratne was produced before the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court on Thursday (8), and was remanded until 14 September.

Courtes; The Morning