The CID last week took into custody the Commissioner of Prisons Department (Rehabilitation) Emil Ranjan Lamahewa and Police Anti Narcotics Bureau inspector Newamal Rangajeewa on suspicion over the alleged shooting incident within Welikada Prison which occurred on the 09th of November 2012. This is almost five years after the incident. The current revelation under ‘Truthful Investigations’ is about this incident. This report is based on the findings of the CID which were submitted to courts and the matters containing in the report compiled by the three-member Committee appointed by the Ministry of Justice to probe into this incident.
It was 2012 and the date was 09th of November. The time was around 01.30 PM. 790 members of the Police Special Task Force, carrying fire arms entered Welikada Prison. At first the Prison officers, who were manning the gates, declined to allow them as entering a secured area carrying guns was not permitted. However following orders from high ups they were allowed inside the prison.
The STF officers together with the members of the Prison intelligence unit launched a search operation. After checking one of the wards they proceeded to search the Chapel ward. There were Prisoners in death row and those sentenced to twenty years inside this ward. The prisoners resented to this search by those carrying firearms. A heated argument arose which then led to an exchange of fisticuffs. Within minutes the STF directed a Tear Gas attack on the Chapel Ward, which angered the prisoners. Thereafter the STF left the prison.
The STF comes under the police and it is a para military outfit of the police. Even after the STF had left the situation did not return to normalcy. A group of prisoners, in the rush, had broken into the Armoury of the prison and removed some firearms.
After all these incidents 150 soldiers of the army entered the prison around 08.00 PM. Two Unicorn vehicles also entered the prison. According to the evidence submitted to the three-member committee the army personnel had been stationed in a prison ground since afternoon. Their operation too ended around 11.00 PM. Thereafter there was a reticence within the prison area. The bodies of several prisoners were found strewn within the prison grounds. The army had been seen checking some prisoners after commanding them to kneel.
The fire arms, alleged to have been removed by the prisoners after breaking into the armoury, were taken into custody by the army. They were then returned to Jailor Guard Nanayakkara, who was in charge of the armoury at the time of the robbery. The jailor accepted them noting down the serial numbers of these fire arms.
According to the investigations by the CID and the report of the three-member committee, the next person who had entered the prison was a person in civvies, together with inspector Niyomal Rangajeewa attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau. One of them is said to have had a list of names. They had walked towards the place where some prisoners were continuing to kneel and called the names in the list. They were then separated and taken away.
It has been stated that the first to be taken away was Malan, followed by Kapila. Then came Manju Sri’s turn. The 26-year-old Harsha Manju Sri Manikeerthi had been serving as an insurance agent. It had been later reported that the suspect had visited the Kotte Temple in search of a sword. Police however did not find a sword in the suspect’s possession.
Thereafter they had been taken to the YO ward of the prison led by a prison officer. This ward had been secured with padlocks and witnesses had claimed that these padlocks were broken after shots were fired at them. Eight inmates, whose names appeared in the list, were then taken out. They were Kankanamlage Milinda Nilendra Pelpola, Nirmala Atapattu, Gundu Mama alias Vijaya Rohana, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Ponna Kapila alias Andupulige Jothipala, Manju Sri alias Harsha Sri Mahakeerthi Perera, Mali Prasanna alias Raigamage Susantha Perera and Koda Amila alias Mallalage Malith Sameera Perera.
According to the identity card issued in 1997 by the Government Information Department Vijaya Rohana, who is among these eight individuals, had been serving Janahanda newspaper as a photo journalist. In a statement made by his mother it says, “They tried to take revenge of my son over something that appeared in the newspaper when he was working for this publication. They took him into custody making fake charges of carrying drugs. A boy who resided behind my house was assaulted by the Narcotics bureau and killed. This case would be proved with my evidence, which I stated to courts. When I returned after giving evidence in courts, my son was killed in this manner. Earlier there were threats made to my son to stop me from giving evidence”.
Koda Amila was another inmate who was killed. He had been taken into custody by the Narcotics Division over charges of trafficking in drugs. There is another case against him for behaving in an unruly manner while in Jail.
All these prisoners were languishing in jail over well-known public offences or convicted of drug related offences, while there were others who had fallen out with the prison authorities.
The scene of an enacted crime
Normalcy returned to the prison environs after the intervention by the army. This was after the operation conducted by the three individuals who visited the prison and singled out certain detainees. The remains of these detainees were found the next day strewn all over the prison ground. Firearms were also found close to these bodies. That was the scene of an enacted crime.
The firearms and other equipment discovered by the army were handed over to the officer in charge of weapons at the prison G.L.W. Nanayakkara by G.B.S. Tennekoon the Sergeant at the Panagoda Army Camp as per a written schedule. Nanayakkara had received these weapons following documentation with the consent of Sergeant Tennekoon. (A copy of that document is shown in the photograph)
They were 3 T 58s, 03 T56 Mark 11, 07 T 58 Magazines and 08 T 56 Magazines which were duly handed over to Nanayakkara. After several hours the then superintendent of the Magazine Prison had called over and requested for some firearms that were handed over by the Army. The officer-in-charge of weapons at the prisons had hesitated in releasing these weapons, but was reluctantly compelled to do so when the then Commissioner General of Prisons Kodippily instructed him to hand over the weapons.
By noon weapons were found near the bodies of the inmates that were killed and the weapons were found near the bodies of these dead prisoners. These weapons were identified as those that were handed back in this manner.
On the recommendation of the three member committee, the IGP took steps to hand over investigations to the CID. Proper investigations commenced and statements of a large number of persons were recorded. Following detailed probes on the series of events that took place inside Welikada Prison, Inspector Nyomal Rangajeewa of the Police Narcotics bureau was taken into custody on 28th March by the CID on suspicion of the alleged killing of eight prisoners, who had been identified and segregated before their deaths.
Following this move the then superintendent of the Magazine Prison Emil Ranjan Lama Hewa too was taken into custody at his official residence within the Prison premises. At the time of the arrest Emil Ranjan was serving as the Commissioner (Rehabilitation) of the Prisons Department.
No sooner the duo were arrested they sought a stay at the Colombo General Hospital stating that they were sick. They were allowed to do so by the CID. However after the Magistrate made a visit to the hospital and considered a report submitted to him, he ordered the suspects to be remanded.
The investigators are now on the look out to the arrest a senior officer who served the prisons department at the time these killings took place.
The Government is held responsible for the deaths of people who are under the custody of security services.
The message “Prisoners are also human beings” adorns the walls of Welikada Prison. But such sayings are of no use if those entrusted with the utmost duty of caring for the inmates act with such impunity to please their Godfathers.