News

UN and Red Cross urged to protect protesting prisoners

  • Appeal for intervention amidst reports of water, food deprivation

By Pamodi Waravita

The Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) yesterday (24) wrote to the United Nations (UN) and to the International Committee of the Red Cross appealing to them to urgently intervene to ensure the safety and wellbeing of prisoners who are engaged in protests at the Welikada Prison, following the latest allegations that they were being denied food and water.

“Last month, some prisoners launched a protest on a rooftop at the Welikada Prison, demanding to commute their death sentence to life imprisonment and reduce life imprisonment, through the four-year review provided for in the Prisons Ordinance. On 23 October, a large number of prison officials had been brought to evacuate the protesting inmates and harass their supporters. Since 23 October morning, prison inmates involved in the protest have not been given food and water. Prisoners and our organisation fear that more repressive measures are imminent. Last year, protesting prisoners in Sri Lanka were shot, beaten, and tortured by prison officials. Information reaching us from prisons indicate that there’s great fear of disproportionate use of violence by the Government and a bloodbath may occur again in Welikada prison. We urge you to urgently and immediately intervene to ensure the lives of prisoners will be safeguarded and there will be no reprisals against prisoners who are protesting and others supporting them,” claimed the CPRP in the letter.

The CPRP further said that the recent pardon of former Member of Parliament Duminda Silva has “agitated prisoners due to its arbitrary nature”. Although several discussions had occurred with government ministers, including the former State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte, regarding their demands, no progress has occurred, the organisation alleged.

“In the longer term, we urge you to ensure the legitimate long-term problems faced by prisoners (which they have been highlighting through protests) will be addressed through a time bound and transparent plan monitored by your organisations, rather than empty promises that are aimed at stopping the protests,” urged the CPRP.

The letter has been copied to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachalet.

The Mahara Prison unrest lasted for two days in November 2020, following tensions of overcrowding that arose during the Covid-19 pandemic. Eleven inmates died as a result of the unrest, which also saw prison officials allegedly open fire at the prisoners to control the conflict. In 2012, a riot that broke out at the Welikada Prison left 27 people dead and over 40 people injured.