- Angunakolapelessa houses some of the most notorious criminals
- CPRP to meet UN officials tomorrow
- The report of the first committee of inquiry was due to be submitted yesterday
- The assault occurred while the country was plunged in a political crisis
While we are fed with stories about rehabilitation and prisoners paying their debt to society over crimes they committed, inmates are being subjected to crimes against humanity on a daily basis inside the prisons.
Angunakolapelessa Prison was established to provide remand prisoners and also convicted prisoners with facilities that meet international standards. But what happened instead was one of Sri Lanka’s prisons making international headlines last week. This was after a leaked sensational CCTV video footage, recorded on November 22, 2018, about a happening inside Angunakolapelessa ‘super prison’. The footage revealed how unarmed prisoners had been assaulted by prison officials using batons.
The leaked CCTV footage of the first Sri Lankan prison, equipped with CCTV cameras, created a controversy. Not only were the inmates beaten, they were also made to crawl on their knees with their hands held high above their heads. In the video, inmates were seen running out of their ward with pillows, bed sheets and mats. Around 30 prison officials along with a person in civvies, who was later identified as the Prison Superintendent, were taking the inmates out of the ward and assaulting them. In certain frames of the video the person in civvies is seen kicking some of the inmates.
The video clip consists of footages from two camera fitted at different angles in the morning and afternoon of the same day. The assault occurred in November last year, while the country was plunged in a political crisis and under the disputed premiership of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Protests against alleged strip searches
Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP), during a press conference held last week in Maradana, made public the video footage. CPRP Secretary Sudesh Nandimal Silva urged the authorities to take immediate action regarding the assault.
Before holding a media conference, the CPRP had already lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and handed over a DVD copy of the visuals to them, demanding a criminal inquiry and prosecution of the prison officials involved in the assault.
According to Silva, the inmates who protested on 21 October 2018- against the alleged strip searches of prisoners’ by visiting members of the Special Task Force (STF)- were assaulted by the Prison officials on November 22.
Before holding a media conference, the CPRP had already lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and handed over a DVD copy of the visuals to them, demanding a criminal inquiry and prosecution of the prison officials involved in the assault
The total number of inmates at the Angunakolapelessa Prison is 1,200. Around 400 inmates had reportedly supported the protest. The Government had deployed STF members on October 17 for the protection of prisons, and this initiative had commenced from Angunakolapelessa Prison.
The move to deploy the STF at the Angunakolapelessa Prison, to which institute many notorious convicted inmates were transferred from Welikada Prison, was shrouded in controversy. This was due to the alleged involvement of the STF in the 2012 Welikada Prison incident, which brought death to 27 inmates.
However, the Government has said that the STF had been deployed to ensure the protection of prisons for several reasons including preventing the use of drugs inside prisons. CPRP’s Nandimal Silva said that visitors had complained to the inmates about the alleged strip searches and showed they weren’t willing to return to the prison as long as the STF searches continued.
Refuting claims that the STF had been allowed inside prisons, the Prison Reforms and Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala, during a press conference, said that the STF are involved only in maintaining security outside of the Prisons and not inside.
In a reply to the allegation regarding strip searches, the Minister said when looking at the ridiculous and shocking means of how visitors of inmates bring narcotics into the prison, this strip search method is also not effective enough.
“Angunakolapelessa Prison is one of the prisons in Sri Lanka with a slim possibility of narcotics being available within. That is because of the tight security methods I have recommended,” she said.
Prison Superintendent and the assault
The Prison Superintendent had allegedly pulled up the inmates regarding some incidents. The inmates had launched the protest against this Superintendent too, Chairman of the CPRP Attorney Senaka Perera said.
“The Prison Superintendent became emboldened after the 26 October 2018 political crisis. Thus, what took place on 22 November 2018 is an act of revenge,” Perera further claimed.
He alleged that Prison Superintendent A.W. Siridath Dhammika, Chief Jailor Pradeep Wasantha Kumara, Jailors A.D.S. Samaraweera, Ajith Kumara, Shelton and Abeygunawardena, P. Gamage of the Stores, Storekeeper Indika, Guards Udayantha, Rasika Chandana, Prabath, Kumara and Hewanayake, were among those involved in the said attack.
Attorney Perera also speaking at the press briefing, said that if the legal actions against those who were involved in the assault is delayed for any reason, they would go to Court to have the criminal law enforced in connection with this case.
A special team from Colombo had been also sent to investigate and observe the situation at the Angunakolapelessa Prison in last October. Subsequently, Prisons authorities had moved out nine inmates, involved in the recent protests.
Meanwhile, Minister Atukorale believes that corrupt prison staff in Angunakolapelessa Prison had instigated the prisoners to protest by letting them out of their cells and even allowing them to climb upon a tower to demonstrate.
Recent prison violence
The new high-tech prison complex built on 65 acres of land in Angunakolapelessa houses some of the most notorious criminals. Many of them were transferred from Welikada Prison.
It was revealed during the ministry press conference that several incidents prior to November 22 (2018) had already created unrest within the prison.
The chain of incidents that had taken place inside the Angunakolapelessa Prison before the November 22nd assault is as follows.
1. November 14 - A prisoner, accused of an abduction case involving an underaged girl, attempting to escape from the roof of Embilipitiya Magistrate’s Court
2. November 16 - The convict of the Rita John rape and murder case who is on death row stoning the convict of the famous Hokandara six murders case Senaka Sanjeewa alias Ukkuwa to death.
3. November 20 - An inmate, who consumed a liquid chemical, used for cleaning, attempting to escape when he was being treated by a doctor
Prison officials had also been critisized by Magistrates about the delay in producing suspects to the courts.
4. November 22 - Two groups of remand prisoners brutally attacking a suspect with two iron poles.
This incident happened on the day of the much talked assault. “The inmates had removed these iron poles from a door. A team of prison officials had gone to the scene and taken the injured inmate for treatment. After that, the inmates hadn’t allowed the officials to leave the ward. They had attempted to hold the officials captive.The alarm was raised that a revolt was taking place and prison officers who rushed to the spot had taken the inmates out and punished them. These scenes were depicted in the video that was shown in the leaked CCTV footage,” Minister Atukorale said.
“The Prison Superintendent became emboldened after the 26 October 2018 political crisis. Thus, what took place on 22 November 2018 is an act of revenge
Ministry, CID, HRSCL
On the day of the video was made public, Minister Atukorale instructed the Prisons Commissioner General to appoint a three-member committee to provide a report regarding the incident prior to today, adding that further action would be taken based on it. Prisons Commissioner (Administration/Intelligence and Security Divisions), H.M.T.N. Upuldeniya is heading the committee.
Nevertheless, this committee was rejected by the CPRP, criticising that the incident which had taken place inside a prison should not be investigated by a committee headed by a Prison Commissioner. In a letter to the Minister, the CPRP said Prison Commissioner Upuldeniya, who is also the Spokesman of Prisons Department, had earlier ruled out any human rights violations or brutality inside prisons.
Not even 12 hours had passed after the letter was sent when another investigative team was appointed on the instructions of the Minister to probe the assault of prisoners. The report of the second committee is expected to be handed over to the Minister before January 25.
The members of the second team comprise Senior Assistant Secretary of the President’s Secretariat, PM Nanayakkara, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management, Mrs. BMMM Basnayake and Senior Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, Mrs. GDA Swarnalatha.
The first committee of inquiry appointed on the instructions of the Minister to probe the incident has already commenced making inquiries into the incidents at Angunakolapelessa Prison and the Committee’s report was due to be submitted yesterday.
Meanwhile, Southern Province Governor Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon also writing to Minister Atukorale and the media, had requested details regarding the said incident and also called upon the public to assist in identifying those responsible for the said assault.
The move to deploy the STF at the Angunakolapelessa Prison, to which institute many notorious convicted inmates were transferred from Welikada Prison, was shrouded in controversy. This was due to the alleged involvement of the STF in the 2012 Welikada Prison incident, which brought death to 27 inmates
HRCSL fully aware of assault
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) issuing a statement said that when it learned of the incident, the Commission visited the Prison, obtained statements from prisoners, and requested the Superintendent of the Prison to produce those alleged to have been assaulted for examination by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO).
The Commission has also requested the Superintendent to provide medical assistance to inmates ,who required such assistance.
The Commission has undertaken a number of follow-up visits in December, 2018 to obtain further statements of prisoners, monitor whether prisoners were produced before the JMO had also monitored their general well-being.
In early December 2018 the Commission summoned the Commissioner-General of Prisons and the Superintendent of Angunakolapelessa closed the prison so that inquiries could be carried out regarding the incident. During these inquiries the Commission reiterated the need to adhere to the constitutional provisions on freedom from torture and pointed to the Convention Against Torture Act No 22 of 1994, which criminalizes torture.
Inquiries are continuing and the Commission expects to issue its recommendation soon, the HRCSL said.
Inquiring into video leak
Following the video leakage, the authorities have sealed off the CCTV control room at Angunakolapelessa Prison to prevent the records being accessed.
She also said that the release of footage to the media instead of complaints being made to the Ministry was of concern and would be investigated. She criticised members of the CPRP for releasing the visuals to the media and creating a controversy, without handing them over to the ministry.
She also warned that whoever leaked the visuals would be found and action taken against them. “Whoever leaked the CCTV visuals, has to be the working of someone inside the prison. We will conduct an inquiry to find out who it was,” the minister said.
There can be cases where members of the prison staff take revenge on the inmates unleashing cruel punishment. Appointing committees are not enough in such cases
Appointing committees isn’t enough
The Daily Mirror spoke to Former Human Rights Commissioner and currently working as the Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Jamaica, West Indies Prof. Prathiba Mahanamahewa to seek his opinion on the violation of human rights of inmates in Angunakolapelessa incident.
He said that as this incident has already made a black mark on Sri Lanka, the country would have to face the repercussions in the upcoming sessions of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
He opined that appointing committees isn’t what a Minister of Prison Reforms and Justice, who is considered the guardian of inmates in the prison, should do during such incidents. He said the minister should resign immediately.
He explained how rights of prisoners are protected in international and local laws.
“Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which came into force in 1976, clearly states that no person’s rights regarding liberty should be deprived and their humanity and dignity must be protected. Prisoners are also human beings therefore their rights must be protected even when they are facing trial or even after being sentenced.”
He also spoke about the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which were introduced in 1955. It says punishment of inmates cannot be carried out by the prison staff or the prison commissioner in a prison.
“In 2015, Mandela Rules were included in these minimum rules. Mandela Rules clearly state that the remand prisoners are people whose liberty and rights are deprived of, therefore any cruel or inhumane punishment on them is a violation of their human rights,” Prof. Mahanamahewa said.
As per the Article 11 and 13 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978) says prisoners should be free of torture, he said.
“There can be cases where members of the prison staff take revenge on the inmates unleashing cruel punishment. Appointing committees are not enough in such cases. The video shows how the unarmed inmates were assaulted with batons. If the inmates have done something wrong, punishment can only be carried out by the courts,” he further said.
HR Commissioner suggested that continuous human rights and prisoners’ rights awareness programmes should be conducted for the benefit of all prison staffs in Sri Lanka so that officials do not repeat these types of incidents in future and to improve prison management strategies in Sri Lanka.