ewly appointed Acting Prisons’ Commissioner General Rohana Pushpakumara had said the fair use of the facilities of the Prison Hospital would be available to every inmate irrespective of his or her background and will not be the privy of VIPs sentenced or remanded for various offences.
Mr. Pushpakumara told Daily Mirror that there was a trend at present for high-profiled individuals who were imposed a jail sentence or ordered to be remanded to seek refuge in the Prison Hospital. Most of the VIPs were often directed to the Prison Hospital by the Judges who remanded or sentenced them following appeals submitted by their attorneys.
The Acting Prisons Commissioner General is absolutely correct. We have never heard of a famous or an affluent person or one from the upper class of society being remanded or convicted being treated as an ordinary prisoner. The rare exception was former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. In most cases they are directly sent to the prison hospital and not to the relevant prison “wards”. The most recent case was about former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake.
To the best of our knowledge, Attanayake was a healthy man until he was ordered to be remanded after he was arrested for allegedly preparing a document with forged signatures of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He was apparently so ill when he stepped into the New Magazine Prison that treatment at the prison hospital OPD was not sufficient and needed admission.
Some affluent people when sent to jail as convicts or suspects pending trial fall so severely ill that they were at times not even admitted to the prison hospital, but to a Government hospital outside, preferably the Merchants Ward at the Colombo National Hospital. Then they would bring their wives and the children and invariably transform the ward into a hotel room. There had been instances where affluent remand prisoners had brought even computers to the Merchants Ward and engaged in their normal business and political activities with their aides, supporters and business partners frequently visiting them day and night.
However, this is not the case with the ordinary prisoners. They would languish in small prison cells with limited and supervised visits by their loved ones. They would have the food provided by the prison authorities, sleep on a canvass mat and sometimes get beaten by the prison guards.
This discrimination is an open infringement of the spirit of the law, which is that no one is above the law. This situation is seen not only in prisons. Law is often seen treating the rich and powerful in one way and the poor and the marginalised differently. For instance, the notorious drug dealer, “Wele Suda” is said to have revealed names of many rich people who are alleged to have had dealings with him. Had those people been ordinary men or women police would not waste time to load them into jeeps and haul them to the police stations for questioning. There have been occasions when relatives of wanted people were taken as hostages by the police until the suspects surrendered but that too only if they were ordinary men or women.
The excuse given by the leaders of the present government for not arresting those involved in mass-scale corruption yet is that there should be sufficient evidence to do so. But it is a well known fact that only an anonymous telephone call is needed to arrest a suspect from the lower strata of the society.
Often we hear of instances where the police or the CID drag people out of their houses in the presence of their little children if they are needed to be questioned or arrested while the well-to-do are asked to report to the police station or the infamous fourth floor. Sometimes officials visit them at their homes or officers to record their statements. These are long existing situations that people tend to think that this is how it should be. However, when it comes to equality before the law, rule of law or most importantly the “yahapalanaya,” this kind of discrimination must also be looked into.