Protesting prisoners shun negotiations

BY Pamodi Waravita

Prisons Department Spokesman and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake said yesterday (21) that the 10 prisoners currently protesting atop the roof of the Welikada Prison Complex have refused to enter into negotiations with the Prisons Department officials and are continuing their protest.

According to Ekanayake, the prisoners, protesting on the roof of the Chapel Ward of the Complex since 20 September, are demanding a general amnesty as they are serving lengthy prison sentences.

A similar protest occurred in June this year, where 12 death row prisoners demanded that their death penalty be commuted to a term of life imprisonment instead. During the same month, 70 death row prisoners at the Mahara

Prison Complex demanded the same by launching a hunger strike.

Earlier this month, the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) wrote to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, requesting that as per the demands of over 1,000 prisoners who are facing the death penalty, their sentence be commuted to a life sentence.

“Prisoners who have been given the death penalty and those who are currently serving a life sentence held a nine-day-long hunger strike in December 2020, demanding a change to their sentences. Thus, prisoners who have been sentenced to death demanded that they be sentenced to life instead, whilst those who are currently serving a life term demanded a 20-year prison sentence. At the time, Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte promised that this relief will be granted to prisoners before the next Vesak Poya Day. However, he did not do so,” the CPRP stated.

According to the CPRP, since the four years’ behaviour and conduct review of prisoners as per the Prisons Ordinance and other related regulations are not periodically conducted and reviewed every four years, as they should be, prisoners face a serious injustice.

“Due to this, some who should have received relief, have now been in prison for over 20 years. Some of their families have now even disowned them, whilst some others face severe mental anguish,” noted the letter.