By Kelum Bandara and Sheain Fernandopulle
The committee, appointed to look into the Mahara prison riot, has found that congestion, the panic created by the detection of COVID-19 patients among the prisoners, lack of facilities for proper meals and communication gaps are among the reasons that led to clashes last week killing eight inmates and injuring scores of others.
The committee, headed by former High Court judge Kushala Sarojani Weerawardane, handed over its interim report to Justice Minister Ali Sabry and Prisons Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, Lohan Ratwatte.
A member who served in the committee told Daily Mirror the prison was over-crowded with 300 prisoners accommodated in a cell sufficient for 100 only.
He said the prisoners had got alarmed after hearing the news of a few coronavirus infected persons being transferred to the Mahara Prison from Welikada.
After PCR tests conducted on 1,000 inmates, 180 tested positive exacerbating unrest among the inmates.
“This created panic among the inmates,” he said.
He said some prisoners, eligible to be released on bail in keeping with the circular issued, had not been released pending results of PCR tests.
“Some inmates had raided the kitchen and grabbed sharp tools to unleash violence during the mayhem. We visited the prison premises and witnessed the damage done during clashes with guards. We recorded statements from all concerned. Inmates belonging to different organized criminal groups had also vented their gang rivalry during clashes,” he said.
The committee had recommended in its 21 reports to keep them separate from each other.
Asked about the dozen prisoners who got killed, he said it could be established only later after seeing the post mortem findings and the reports of the Government Analyst.
“We will delve into such details in the final report to be compiled later,” he said.
The committee comprises former High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena, President’s Counsel U.R. De Silva, Justice Ministry Additional Secretary Rohana Pahugaswatte, DIG Ajith Rohana, and former Prisons Commissioner Gamini Jayasinghe and Prison Reforms State Ministry Additional Secretary Nishan Dhanasinghe.