Ratwatte incident: former HRCSL Commissioner raises concerns over events that followed

Responding to the events that followed during the days after former State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte allegedly forcibly entered the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prison premises in an intoxicated state, former Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Ambika Satkunanathan took to Twitter to raise several concerns and questions over the same.

With regard to Minister Namal Rajapksa’s visit to the Anuradhapura prison, Satkunanathan questioned how the prisoners affected by Ratwatte’s behaviour were able to relay a message, calling for Minister Rjapaksa’s visit so soon. She further pointed out that because Rajapaksa did not condone the incidents reported by the media, this can be regarded as some form of acknowledgement that the incident occurred.

In terms of his assurance that he would work to secure their release, while adding that they could join any political party afterwards along with his request for them to not be mislead by parties like the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Satkunanathan regards Rajapaksa’s visit as a pure Public Relations (PR) exercise.

“A Minister who has no authority over organisations that make decisions regarding arrests, detention or indictments provides assurances on release. He also cautioned against Tamil political parties, thereby making his visit political, and a PR exercise which seemingly incentivizes the prisoners not to make an issue of incident,” she said.

Satkunanathan notes that the day after this, Ratwatte denied that the incident took place, despite the President’s Media Division and Namal Rajapaksa’s statements which suggested the contrary.

Refuting Ratwatte’s claims which suggest that this was a conspiracy against him because he stopped all drug dealings occurring in prisons, the former HRCSL commissioner cited news reports of narcotics seizures in prisons which suggest otherwise.

“These seizures don’t mean smuggling drugs into prison was being curtailed. To the contrary, such seizures have been happening for years and are evidence of continuing smuggling of drugs into prison,” she stated.

She also raises concern with regard to Ratwatte’s claims that all those detained for gang related activities are held in separate areas which cannot be disclosed.

“I hope the “separate area” is an authorized, gazetted place of detention as persons shouldn’t be held at unauthorized places of detention,” she expressed.

Another question was raised on the topic of CCTV monitoring at both the Anuradhapura and Welikada prison premises.

“Ratwatte says CCTV can’t be deleted, but the Department of Prisons said CCTV wasn’t installed at Welikada and Anuradhapura. When we visited Welikada, we recall seeing at least 2 CCTV cameras in external parts of the prison. Also, the Government announced in April 2021 that installation of cameras in Colombo prisons, including Welikada, had begun and would be completed by Aug 2021. If it had begun, why is there no CCTV at Welikada which is the prison with the largest prisoner population?” she asks.

Directing a question at Ratwatte, Satkunanathan asks how many times he visited prisons for inspections since he was appointed with this portfolio in December 2020.