Some are more equal than others

2017-09-13 00:06:21

The issue about powerful or affluent people remanded or convicted taking shelter in the prison hospital has come up again. This time it has come into the public domain after former Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita, the former Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) were transferred to the prison hospital soon after their conviction in the ‘Sil redi’ case.

On Monday, Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake and six other civil society activists had requested the Health Ministry to transfer the Welikada prison’s acting Chief Medical Officer Nirmalie Thenuwara after she had recommended that the two convicts be transferred to the prison hospital.

In a letter to the Ministry Secretary they said the action taken by the acting CMO with regard to the transfer of the two had not followed proper procedure and was questionable.

The Deputy Minister, Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights (CHR), Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon, Human Rights lawyer and former IUSF convener Udul Premaratne, Colombo Remand Prison’s Nursing Officers’ Association Secretary Mahinda Kodagoda, Secretary of the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, Attorney at Law Senaka Perera, Attorney at Law Namal Rajapakse and Journalist Kasun Pussawela were the signatories of the letter.

The outcry by the civil society activists was an outcome of a series of similar incidents where powerful people of the previous Government were given preferential treatment over the other ordinary prisoners remanded or convicted. 

It must be recalled that former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and two officials, who were remanded in April 2015 on charges of misappropriating Divi Neguma funds, were also admitted to the prison hospital and interestingly the three of them had been later transferred to the Colombo National Hospital.

Now it has come to a point where one can predict whether a person who is remanded or convicted would fall sick, soon after he or she enters through the prison gate, considering his social status. 

A few months ago Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne also had accused a medical doctor attached to the prison hospital of recommending undeserving prisoners to be admitted to the prison hospital for obvious reasons. 

However, the practice seems to be continuing. Hence Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan had this week made it mandatory for any prison inmate seeking admission to the prison hospital to get consent of three doctors. But the question remains as to what prevents these powerful people getting the consent of the three doctors as well by using their “power,” in a system riddled with corruption.

Nobody can and should oppose Mr. Weeratunga or for that matter any ordinary prisoner, convicted or remanded being provided with facilities such as a bed and a proper toilet. 

But the issues before us are the attempts to make a mockery of the law and corruption involved in the mechanism that is meant for the eradication of corruption. 

The magnitude of the corruption could be gauged if a thorough inspection of the assets of those involved, was made, possibly running into millions.

Another serious matter is the repeated and unhindered preferential treatment especially of people accused or convicted of high profile corruption over convicts or suspects of minor offences who are not provided with even the basic amenities. 

While these things happen there are another set of Tamil prisoners, who have been languishing in prison cells with minimal facilities for more than a decade without being charge-sheeted. Some people are kicked into the Police vehicles while some others are invited to the Police Station or authorities visit them to record their statements. 

Some prisoners are allowed to bring their meals and mattresses from their homes but not others. Some people are admitted to the prison hospital when they enter the prison, while some others are given an aluminum plate to eat in and a canvas sheet to lie on in a cell shared with five or six inmates. What an unjust justice system.

One wonders whether the authorities are maintaining the system preferably for their future convenience, as some day they too would be in the Opposition. 

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