What happened to Basil Rajapaksa, the former Economic Development Minister and brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa? The entire country was watching him over the television very energetically walking fast into the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) of the police two days after he returned from his self-exile in the US. But no sooner he was arrested by the FCID he was seen in a wheelchair and when he was ordered to be remanded, he was sent to the prison hospital, not to an ordinary cell in the prison. Later he was transferred to the paying Merchant’s Ward at the National Hospital on the grounds that there are no appropriate facilities in the prison hospital. He has contracted a heart pain, they say.
Surprisingly, the two persons arrested along with him, the former Secretary to the Economic Development Ministry, Dr. Nihal Jayatilaka and the Director General of the Divineguma Department, R.R.K. Ranawaka were also admitted to the National Hospital apparently on the same grounds after being produced before the Kaduwela Magistrate. There hadn’t been the remotest sign of the trio suffering from even a cold before they were ordered to be remanded.
But nobody could protest against them being sent to the hospital rather than to the prison cells as recognized medical practitioners had recommended that they be treated in a hospital with modern facilities, after which Courts too have permitted them to be hospitalised. Contesting the decision of the Court would amount to Contempt of Court, while challenging the doctors’ prescription for them to be hospitalised would be tantamount to being offensive since they are professionals in the medical field whereas we are not.
However, the natural question that arises here is how on earth all affluent and powerful people fall so severely sick at the moment they are ordered to be remanded or convicted by Courts. Weeks ago former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake who crossed over to the UPFA during the last Presidential Election was arrested for allegedly forging a document purported to be a secret agreement between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He too fell so seriously ill that he had to be hospitalised once the judge ordered him to be remanded.
To the best of our knowledge and also to our pleasure, Attanayake was a healthy man not needing any hospitalisation before his brief prison life that he spent after being remanded. Also we didn’t hear of him being treated for any ailment after he was released on bail either. This was the case when S.B. Dissanayake was imprisoned over Contempt of Court and Thilanga Sumathipala was remanded over a forged passport case. The only exception among powerful people was Sarath Fonseka, the man who spearheaded the victorious war against the LTTE and who spent his prison life in isolation.
Acting Prisons Commissioner General Rohana Pushpakumara told the Daily Mirror in February when former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake was arrested that there was a trend at present where high-profiled individuals who were imposed a jail sentence or ordered to be remanded sought refuge in the Prison Hospital. Most of the VIPs were often directed to the Prison Hospital by the Judges who have remanded or sentenced them following appeals submitted by their Attorneys.
The judges and doctors in a particular case may be correct when they recommended the person in question to be hospitalised soon after they are sent to jail. But how should one understand a situation where only people belonging to the upper echelon of the society are prevented from being imprisoned in cells when they are remanded or convicted. Interestingly, if not ludicrously, each individual case may be legal, but when we take all the cases in their totality it is clear that the essence of the law had been infringed.
The Constitution says: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.” However, it is vividly clear that the practical situation runs counter to this Article of the Constitution.