The failure to promptly open and carry out a criminal investigation into the deaths of 27 inmates in Welikada prison during a riot and its aftermath on November 9 and 10 of 2012 has become a stigma to the justice system in Sri Lanka. Human rights activists and organisations had expressed concerns at the lack of a prompt and expeditious investigation and the impunity of the culprits.
Despite having strong evidence and testimonies of a number of witnesses to the shooting incident, no formal inquiry was opened during the previous regime or the present. The families of those killed together with rights watchdog claim that those responsible for the alleged massacre include some powerful political and security officials.
Five years have lapsed since the deaths of 27 inmates. Despite several commissions being appointed to inquire into the incident, none of these commissions had the authorisation to investigate and prosecute the offenders. However, eye witnesses’ fingers point at the same people. All witnesses had given statements against the same group of people.
Appeal Court to hear petition on July 7
In the absence of a formal investigation by the government, an eye witness to the incident Sudesh Nandimal Silva recently sought an order from the Court of Appeal, directing the Inspector General Police (IGP) and the Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to commence an investigation into these deaths.
Nandimal Silva, who was in remand custody when the riot occured, cited Commissioner General of Prisons, Director of CID, IGP, Minister of Prison Reforms and the Attorney General as respondents in his writ petition.
Speaking to Daily Mirror, he said most of the inmates who died inside the prison were those who had filed Fundamental Rights cases and petitions before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) against Police Inspector M. Neomal Rangajeewa of the PNB, Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and Former Magazine Prison Superintendent Emil Ranjan Lamahewage.
My life is in danger
- Eye witness Nandimal
Sudesh Nandimal Silva alleged that the purpose of the STF which came in hundreds to Welikada Prison on November 9 was to create a problem and fulfill their target.
“I was told by a prison officer that the STF came on an order of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. We heard a commotion from the wards to which the STF entered on the pretext of searching for drugs and mobile phones. We heard our inmates screaming. After some time, we figured out that tear gas had been fired into the cells where our inmates were trapped. It was such an inhuman act. We had no place to even run and avoid being tear-gassed.”
We heard our inmates screaming. After some time, we figured out that tear gas had been fired
They asked me whether I was Nandimal and they asked me not to pull up the Welikada case because if it is taken up some of them will have to end up in prison. They threatened me not to get involved.”
“Then, inmates started storming the cells. That was when the inmates lost their patience and started hitting back with whatever they caught. The riots began. It should be noted that the prisoners, who were seen on the roof bearing the rifles, were not shot at by the STF. Some selected inmates inside their cells were shot dead by the STF. None of the prisoners wanted to escape. If they wanted, they could have done it earlier.” “However, by midnight, the situation was controlled and the weapons were returned to the prison officers. The prisoners obeyed the prison officers because the prisoners had been known and associating with them for years. The STF returned in the middle of the night. One of the inmates ‘Lester’ who was talking with a prison officer was shot in the neck from behind. At 4 in the morning, they came and dragged Thushara Chandana alias ‘Kalu Thushara’, one of the inmates. I witnessed how he was forced to kneel and was shot in the head. I personally don’t know Rangajeewa. But, I heard Thushara saying ‘Rangajeewa sir, please don’t kill me,”
“Weeks after I gave testimony before the CID, a vehicle started following my motorcycle. One day, two men had come to my work place from the same vehicle and inquired about me from the security guards. One of the security guards had written down the number of the vehicle. An investigation was launched by the Maligawatta Police upon my complaint and it was revealed that the vehicle, which followed me, belonged to the PNB. Further inquiries weren’t continued thereafter.”
“On another day, three individuals wearing caps whistled and called me over when I was going to the junction in Moratuwa to get a reload for my phone. They asked me whether I was Nandimal and they asked me not to pull up the Welikada case because if it is taken up some of them will have to end up in prison. They threatened me not to get involved.” “Lately, they used a radio programme to sling mud at me and threaten me. The so-called presenters of this radio programme branded me as a ‘Sinhala Kotiya’ (Sinhala tiger). I have a family. They faced many difficulties after the show was broadcast. I lodged a complaint against the radio programme with the Police Division for the Protection of Victims and Witnesses. I will not stop because I am not afraid, but I know there is a danger to my life.”
No need for an inquiry
- Frm. Defence Sec. Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the Daily Mirror that he did not believe that the incident should be investigated.
“There is no need of an inquiry. There was a situation going on in the prison on November 9, 2012 when the search for illegal arms and drugs were being carried out. All what the STF did was their job to maintain law and order. It was the normal procedure in this country. They have to control such situations. As the prisoners broke the armoury and started firing with the firearms, the STF only acted how they are supposed to do their job.”
I was not involved at all in the incident.
“I was not involved at all in the incident. How can they charge me like that? I was not even there. They are trying to target me according to their political agendas. Anybody can level allegations against anyone. However, these allegations are baseless. Why should I plan such things inside a prison? Why should I kill those prisoners whom I have never even seen? Give me a reason. I had better work to do during that time.” “I have sacrificed my life for this country. I have worked hard to bring peace to this country. I don’t know why I am being targeted by these people regarding incidents which I have no involvement in.” “Those who point fingers at me are blaming me with their neo-liberal mindsets even for finishing the thirty-year war. They don’t even know the gravity of this incident which took place in Welikada Prison. I think we should not waste time talking about these kinds of matters.”
Implementation of CIPI recommendations within 3 months
- Prison Reforms Minister D.M. Swaminathan
The recommendations given by the three-member Committee Inquiring into the Prison Incident 2012 (CIPI) will be implemented within a time frame of three months
The recommendations given by the three-member Committee Inquiring into the Prison Incident 2012 (CIPI) will be implemented within a time frame of three months as directed by the Prisons Reforms Minister D.M.Swaminathan, ministry media unit told the Dailymirror On the instructions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Swaminathan had directed IGP Pujith Jayasundara, Senior DIG of Police Crimes Investigation Department (CID) Nandana Munasinghe and Senior State Counsel of Attorney General’s Department Janaka Bandara to start implementing the recommendations given by the CIPI regarding the Welikada riots where 27 inmates were killed.
A meeting was called by Minister Swaminathan on June 14 at the Prisons Reforms Ministry to discuss further actions based on the CIPI which submitted its report in June 2015 to the Prime Minister.
During the meeting, SDIG Nandana Munasinghe had informed the minister that the CID investigation which was initiated in 2012 would be completed soon.
Sufficient proof to recommend a criminal investigation
- S.K.Liyanage, a member of the Nambuwasam Committee
Retired Administrative Official and Attorney-at-Law S.K.Liyanage, who is a member of the three-member Committee- headed by Retired Supreme Court Judge Wimal Nambuwasam and Retired DIG Asoka Wijetilake-Inquiring into the Prison Incident 2012 (CIPI) said that there was enough evidence to reach two final recommendations that a criminal investigation should be launched into the case. He added that the respective families of the victims should be compensated.
“No one tried to level pressure on us when carrying out inquiries into the incident. Members of the victims’ families and the witnesses had confidence in our committee compared to the previous commissions. I believe it was because of the government change.” “We appreciate the government’s first move to approve the compensation procedure. However, it is doubtful as to why the other and the most important recommendation is disregarded hitherto. Government Analyst said going by the blood stains and other scientific evidence, many of the prisoners were shot within short range. He had also said that the inmates were kneeling or sitting on something at the time of the shooting.” “When recording statement, Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is said to be the main suspect of the case, told the committee that the STF wasn’t under his control, as such he did not give such orders to shoot the prisoners. The committee was told by him that the STF was under the purview of Former SDIG Anura Senanayake. As far as we are concerned, the IGP was not even in country on November 9, 2012.”
When recording statement, Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is said to be the main suspect of the case
When recording statement, Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is said to be the main suspect of the case, told the committee that the STF wasn’t under his control,
“What makes it ironic is that the then IGP who also gave a statement to the committee had said from the inception that the STF was under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s control and the IGP had nothing to do with it. However, finally it was made clear that several parties had wanted to put and end to the lives of some prisoners due to various reasons.”
Yahapalana govt. following footsteps of previous govt
- Activist Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon
Anti Corruption Front (ACF) Convener and Social Activist Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon said the prison shooting was a deliberate crime. “There is sufficient evidence to prove that the inmates who died had been targeted in a premeditated manner. The Yahapalana government that pledged to punish the culprits of the shooting is now following in the same footsteps of the previous government by dragging the case. We doubt whether they too are shielding someone. Compensating the victims’ families is not enough as an obvious crime has been committed here. They need justice, not money.”
Commissions had no power to implement their recommendations
– Frm. HRCSL Chairman Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa
Former Human Rights Commissioner and Rights Activist Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa said the commissions appointed by the government in order to investigate into serious incidents such as 2012 Welikada shooting should be given judicial powers to a certain degree.
“Authorising the commissions with judicial powers would accelerate the prosecution process as it would not be necessary for the commissions to wait until the given recommendations are taken up for implementation in court.
However, what needs to be done is collect all the completed committee reports, analyze them and implement the recommendations immediately. The Welikada case should be instituted in relevant courts in order to prosecute the suspects.”
Case used for political gains
- Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera for the Writ Petitioner
Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera who appears on behalf of Sudesh Nandimal Silva told the Daily Mirror that the case was used for political gains. He added that the case was purposely delayed due to the attempts to shield the culprits.
“There are jailers who are ready to testify as they witnessed the entire incident. But, they are waiting until the prosecutions begin. But, the government is keeping silent.”
There are jailers who are ready to testify as they witnessed the entire incident.
“The Nambuwasam Committee was appointed as a result of a protest campaign launched by us demanding speedy action against the killings. However, the committee did not seem to be strong . The committee report was completed and reportedly handed over to the government. Delaying the actions in spite of having sufficient evidence makes us think that this case is politically motivated”.
“We are quite sure that the case is held up because the politicians can blackmail the involved powerful characters as long as they conduct the case. The STF should have conducted an internal inquiry on an institution level if they respect the law. Nothing has happened. However, we think the case is not being taken up because of allegations that had already been levelled against the Tri-forces and the STF. In the face of strong public opposition levelled against ‘war heroes being summoned and questioned’, the government is reluctant to take up that kind of case where Tri-forces and STF members might be found guilty.”
Members of the previous committee had been told not to disclose the findings freely
“Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the main suspect of this case. Nothing happened without his orders during that time. They had extreme power by that time. Even though it was illegal, no one was ready to oppose the act which had violated the rules and regulations of the Prisons Act and the fundamental rights of the prisoners.”
“Members of the previous committee had been told not to disclose the findings freely. The witnesses including prison officials were also influenced during the previous government. Some prison officers who witnessed the incident fear for their lives. During the CID inquiry, the CID used to maintain a book to note down the names of the witnesses. We opposed it. Later, the book was removed.”
This is a personal revenge
-Konda Amila’s mother
Sameera Perera aka ‘Konda Amila’ was a convict of a drug related crime. He had been brought into Welikada Prison two days prior to the shooting incident.
Jayasinghe Arachchige Malani, the mother of Konda Amila who died during the shooting, had cooked Milk Rice (Kiribath) to celebrate the ‘joy’ of the news that IP Neomal Rangajeewa of the PNB sustained injuries in a shooting that took place in Piliyandala in May this year. The PNB sleuth is still undergoing treatment at a hospital. She said Karma had treated IP Rangajeewa in that way for allegedly killing her son.
“My beloved son knew nothing. I called him around 1 am on November 10, 2012 after the chaos in the prison. I asked him not to go outside the cell or to be involved in any incident and he said yes. But, Rangajeewa had allegedly dragged my son out of the cell and shot him around 6 am,” she claimed.
Malani recalled the history associating her son and the particular prison official at Magazine Prison, Welikada. “Former Magazine Prison Superintendent Emil Ranjan Lamahewage had punished and penalised my son for possessing a phone in the prison. Following this incident, my son had developed a verbal argument with Emil Ranjan. I had lodged a complaint at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka against him. My son had been threatened by Emil Ranjan and told to withdraw the complaint. But, my son did not want the complaint to be withdrawn. This is merely a personal revenge,” she alleged.
Karma had treated IP Rangajeewa in that way for allegedly killing my son
Sixty three year old Malani broke down several times while talking about her son.
She said despite attempts to sweep the case under the carpet, the ‘killers’ of her son and those who gave the order will be punished by the nature some day. “I cry everyday remembering my son and also I curse those who are responsible for my son’s and others’ untimely deaths. I started a small job so that I can direct my attention to something else.
Otherwise, I would have died or gone mad thinking and crying for my son. Out of my three sons, my elder son died while serving in the Sri Lanka Army. I have only one son now,” she said.
Referring to the Rs. two million of compensation proposed to be given for the family members of the victims of prison massacre, Malani said that she doesn’t want compensation.
Would I be able to get my son back for Rs.2 million she questions? Pledging that she would fight for justice for her son and other dead prisoners, she said that she is ready to appear in court and testify against IP Rangajeewa and former Superintendent Emil Ranjan when the case is taken up again.
Pics by Kushan Pathiraja, Damith Wickremesinghe and Romesh Danushka Silva
Extracts from another eye witness’s account
Hewa Dalugodage Sahan Sri Keerthi was in remand at Welikada Prison at the time of riots took place in November, 2012. He was later released. He left the country to save his life as some perpetrators had come to know that he was an eye witness to some of the gruesome killings. He is in poccession of photographic and audio-video evidence. Before going abroad, in the face of threats to his life for being an eye w itness to the incident, he had written an account of what he saw inside the prison where 27 inmates were killed.
After 2 pm
Prison officials were left perturbed as they had nothing else to do, but wait and see the situation which was being handled by the STF.
After 4 pm
Firing of tear gas started around 1.30 pm and lasted for more than one and half hours with no break. Inmates aged more than 70 had been suffering from breathing problems due to tear gas. They had to use water even from fish tanks to recover.
The situation was so uncontrollable for the main jailer of the prison that he asked prisoners what they should do. The main jailer made an announcement to all inmates saying prison officers and inmates in Welikada had never experienced such cruel treatment during his thirty-year service and he was very disappointed and saddened about what just happened.
After 8 pm
Prisoners who were on roofs bearing arms had stormed the pharmacy of the prison and consumed drugs. However, inmates remanded for serious criminal cases and those who were having underworld connections tried to hide in cells to save their lives. Those who were branded as thugs and gangsters did not even come out of their cells.
After 10 pm
Almost all the arms were returned to jailer Kudabanda and inmates were preparing to return to their cells peacefully on the promise that they would be sent to their cells only by prison officials and not by any government forces. Kalu Thushara who was lately shot dead offered huge support to Kudabanda to collect the arms from the inmates. The inmates did no harm to prison officials. Inmates had even helped many jailers to leave the prison premises due to the chaos. They had not used the chaotic situation to escape from the prison.
Jailers called and warned inmates to be careful and be safe as they heard about a come-back by the STF by midnight into the cells.
After 11.45 pm
A rain of bullets were fired suddenly from the main gate. Lester, one of the inmates who was walking towards their cells, was shot repeatedly and he fell right on Kudabanda’s feet. Everyone started fleeing for their lives. Pointing to several prisoners who were hiding under a table including me, Kudabanda asked not to harass us. The forces who did not respect his words, said they had received orders to kill anyone. They separated prison officials and inmates. When leaving, Kudabanda begged the commandoes not to harm any inmate.
After 2 am
Army officers came to us with a list of prisoners’ and asked their whereabouts. The first inmate they asked about was the one who was remanded for slaying two monks at Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya. Of the names in their list, inmates known as Potta Naufer, Pinwatte Ukkuwa, Ratmalane Rohana and Kapila were there. Few minutes later, we heard Kapila and another inmate named Malan screaming and later they were shot dead.
Kalu Thushara was among three of us including Sudesh Nandimal Silva, hiding under the table. The commandoes came to us twice and asked whereabouts of Kalu Thushara. As we all saw what happened to other prisoners whom they inquired about and dragged outside, all of us tried to hide. Thushara saved his life. On the third occasion, an officer directly came to Thushara and dragged him out. Thushara was crying and begged them not to shoot him. He said ‘sir, I have a child and I am not involved in the drug business anymore’. But, they snatched his life too.
After 9 am
A police team led by a Former Senior DIG visited the prison and took photographs of the dead prisoners. He and the team took the arms which were returned to Kudabanda by inmates. The police team kept those arms next to each and every inmate who was killed by them.
Weeks after ‘murders’ When the CID officials recording statements from eye witnesses including me, we were asked to comply with what they said and if so, we would be acquitted from all the cases and sent back home. Despite this development we badly wanted to speak and act against the injustice. However, the Rajapaksa rule did not give us a single chance to do so.