Government suspects hidden hand behind prison riot

The Government suspects there is a hidden hand behind the Mahara Prison riot in which a number of inmates were killed last night.

State Minister of Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Sudarshini Fernandopulle told Parliament today that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) has been asked to investigate the incident.

The State Minister said the incident had occurred when prison officials had attempted to foil an escape attempt. The unrest had later intensified due to a brawl between remand prisoners and other prisoners, with prison officials opening fire at instances to contain the situation.

Eight prisoners have died and more than fifty injured prisoners are receiving treatment at the Colombo North Teaching hospital, she informed Parliament.

Fernandopulle further said that there have been riots and protests at a number of prisons during the last few weeks.

“Agitations initially started at the Boossa Prison and then continued to the Bogambara, Welikada, Kalutara, Weerawila, and Negombo prisons. A group of prisoners also tried to escape from the Old Bogambara Prison recently and the Mahara Prison yesterday. The attempts were foiled,” she explained.

In response to inquiries on the coronavirus prison cluster, the State Minister said that the cluster has increased to 1099 as of this morning, since the detection of the first patient on 27th October. Among the group, 386 are from Welikada, 46 from Magazine Prison, 157 from Colombo Prison, 198 from Mahara Prison, 175 from Old Bogambara, and 32 from Kuruwita.

Responding to questions raised on measures taken to contain the spread of the virus within prisons, Sudarshini Fernandopulle said visitation was cancelled to all prisons, while steps were taken to prohibit food being brought from outside. Court proceedings were converted to online sessions via Skype technology.

As there was an overflow of remand prisoners due to the special drug operations carried out by the Police, the remand prisoners and suspected Covid cases were placed in quarantine for 2 weeks at the Old Bogambara Prison in Kandy with a view to minimise congestion in prisons. Some prisoners suspected of Covid were also placed at the Pallansena, Galella, and Kandakadu quarantine centres.

Further measures were taken to release remand prisoners, who are a majority of drug addicts and had been remanded for possession of less than 2 grams on bail, while nearly 600 prisoners convicted of minor offences were granted a presidential pardon, she said.

Meanwhile, Minister Wimal Weerawansa alleged that drug dealers are behind the prison riot.

He said the prison intelligence officers had received information that a group linked to notorious drug dealer “Samayang” had distributed drugs to prisoners at the Mahara Prison.

An attempt to distribute drugs to the prisoners at the Welikada Prison was foiled, but the attempt succeeded at the Mahara Prison, the Minister said.

He explained that the Prison Intelligence Unit had found that the drugs were making inmates behave violently after consumption, following which it was seized and those involved in the distribution were placed in separate prisons.

The narcotics were distributed by a group of drug dealers who are unable to conduct operations under the Government, with an aim of staging a number of orgnaized deaths to stir tensions within the prison.

Wimal Weerawansa said this incident is one key reason for the prisoners to agitate, while another is the fact that most are addicted to narcotics and are unable to consume under remand custody.

The Police and hospital authorities said earlier today that the death toll from the Mahara Prison unrest has increased to six.

They said 35 inmates and 2 prison guards sustained injuries in the incident and were admitted to hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ali Sabry too appointed a five-committee to probe the riot at the Mahara Prison. The committee will be chaired by former High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena.

Chief Legal Adviser of the Justice Ministry President’s Counsel U. R. de Silva, Justice Ministry Additional Secretary Rohana Hapugaswatta, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Ajith Rohana, and former Commissioner General of Prisons Gamini Jayasinghe are the remaining members of the committee.

The committee, which has been tasked with investigating and proposing long-term recommendations on the unrest, has been instructed to submit an interim report to the Justice Minister within a week and a complete report by the end of one month. (Colombo Gazette)