Movement for Equal Rights
The Police and the Special Task Force (STF) intervention in a clash between inmates at Mahara Prison and the prison administration led to massive repression in the night of the 29 November in Sri Lanka. By 1 December, 11 detainees have been killed and, 117 have been hospitalised with injuries. As there are more than ten inmates are in a critical stage, the death toll is likely to rise further. The tragedy began as of the necessary facilities were not available for inmates in prison to prevent them from contracting the COVID-19.
In the first phase of the outbreak in Sri Lanka from March to July 2020, there were very few cases have been reported in prisons. However, the virus spread to prisons during the second wave of the epidemic, which began in early October. By 30 November, about thousand and ninety-one inmates infected with the virus in prisons. Among these, 1033 were prisoners and 58 were prison officers. Two of them are dead. At the outset of the incident on the 29 November, 183 infected prisoners had been reported from the Mahara Prison. The prisoners did not even have the minimum sanitation facilities to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, and the disease is spreading uncontrollably due to the overcrowding in prisons. At the time of the incident, the Mahara Prison had a capacity for only 1,000 inmates but was holding about 2,300 inmates. In general, Lankan Prisons can accommodate only 11762 inmates, but at present, there are about 31,000 accommodating.
In addition to not to being able to maintain social distance due to the lack of space, sanitation is also unacceptable due to the lack of facilities such as water and toilets. The risk of spreading the virus was further increased by keeping people who are shown the symptoms in prison together with the other inmates. At the same time, inmates’ anxiety was increasing due to the failure of doing PCR testing of patients, their associates and even those who show symptoms. The situation was intensified by the disruption of serving food, lack of food and unsuitable food human consumption. The current pandemic situation obstructed the Judicia proceedings, and the authorities did not respond to the requests to expedite the court proceedings, grant bail for those who are entitled to and four year review. Protests were being held in a number of prisons across the country against this dangerous situation, and the primary demand of those protests was to provide sanitary facilities and to ensure health practices including PCR tests. The inmates of the Mahara Prison entered the protest on the 29 November 2020.
According to the inmates, a delegation of inmates arrived at 5 pm on the 29 November to discuss their demands with the prison administration. Instead of negotiating with them, inmates said that the administration provoked and demanded the prisoners to kneel and started to beat them up with sticks. They further said that the STF came to the site and shot brutally. However, the police said that a group of detainees were fleeing in the main gate at that time, and they had to shoot down to control the situation. The prison officers said that the inmates had set fire to the prison health bureau, a warehouse and several other locations. Fifty-five from the 71 inmates who were admitted to the hospital were tested and the Ragama hospital confirmed that 38 inmates were positive with COVID-19. Accordingly, the detainees’ suspicions about the spread of the disease have been confirmed. Sadly, 11 people lost their lives in the incident. The government has appointed a committee with the participation of a high court Judge and four others to investigate the incident, which has already drawn criticism for its loyalty. Earlier on the 9 November 2012, the STF raided to the Welikada Prison in Colombo and killed 70 inmates. However, no legal action has been taken against those who are responsible. There is already similar indication has been shown to this event as well.
We urge the government for an immediate and impartial inquiry into the Mahara prison incident and legal action against the officers who issued the orders to shot the inmates, improve sanitation facilities in prisons and to reduce the congestion. We also urge the government that the judicial process to be expedited. We further strongly demand justice to be established to all the people affected by the incident.
We call on all the democrats to unite for the democratic rights of the people and to against the repressive constitutional measures being taken under the current government and for the constitutional dictatorship and the arbitrariness combined with informal military repression.
Movement for Equal Rights