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Mahara prison riot: How pills meant for mental patients triggered violence

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* Over 2,400 inmates on their own within complex

* Death toll reachers 11, could rise further

* Clashes among prisoners injure 80

* Doctor under investigation

* Rioters popped more than 21,000 pills

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A high-level investigation into the Mahara Prison riot took an unexpected turn yesterday (1) following the revelation that the prison dispensary had stored over 21,000 tablets prescribed for mental disorders and sleeping pills.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana told a joint media briefing called by the Police Headquarters and the Prisons Department, in Colombo, that they were quite surprised that such a large stock of tablets was maintained. He said it had to be found out who had ordered the stock, how inmates got addicted to such substances, and whether a doctor attached to the Mahara Prison hospital had instigated prisoners to demand PCR tests.

DIG Rohana said that on the directions of the IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as per the instructions received from Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, a 12 -member team from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was inquiring into the riot.

DIG Rohana said those who had been addicted to heroin and cocaine were believed to have used tablets prescribed to mental patients.

Prisons Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake (Administration) said that those who popped the tablets had turned on each other. Quoting officers who had been at the scene last Sunday (29) Ekanayake said they had never witnessed such scenes of violent behaviour among prisoners before.

Responding to a media query, Ekanayake emphasised that the Mahara Prison riot had erupted suddenly whereas they received intelligence warning of possible trouble at some other prisons.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa told Parliament, on Monday, that the prison riot was part of a sinister plan to bring President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government into disrepute.

The media was told that at the time of the riot there had been 2,782 inmates at the Mahara Prisons complex. 585 were convicts and others suspects, DIG Rohana said, alleging that they had initiated Sunday’s violence. What initially started as common demand for all of them to be subjected to RT-PCR tests quickly had led to a riot, the DIG said.

DIG Rohana, who is also the head of the Police Legal Division, said that a section of those rioters had made repeated attempts to escape. Having failed, they had set fire to buildings within the complex. Among those destroyed were the Registry and the offices of top officials in charge of the prison.

The media was told one more inmate admitted to the Ragama Teaching Hospital had succumbed to his injuries yesterday. With that the total number of dead increased to nine, while 105 continued to receive treatment.
Besides, two Prison officers taken hostage and badly assaulted by the rioters were receiving treatment at the same hospital. Several hours after the conclusion of the media briefing Police headquarters said that two more persons had succumbed to their injuries.

At the beginning of the briefing Ekanayake said that of over 2,700 prisoners, approximately 1,600 had gone on the rampage. “Trouble erupted while they were being served food in line with health guidelines. They broke out from where they were held and swiftly gathered close to the main gate. They demanded immediate PCR tests on them.”

Ekanayake said 187 inmates had tested positive by then.

The rioters had attacked the main gate, Ekanayake said. “Officers opened fire having failed to bring the situation under control by shooting rubber bullets.” He said the situation had taken a turn for the worse after inmates took tablets meant for mental patients.

DIG Rohana said that of the 106 who had received injuries, 80 suffered as a result of violence among the prison community. Of the injured, only 26 were believed to have received gunshot injuries, DIG Rohana said.

Commissioner Ekanayake alleged that both the dead and the wounded were those in custody on narcotic charges.

Seventy eight coronavirus positive inmates had since been moved to a quarantine facility at Adalachchenai in the Akkaraipattu police area, DIG Rohana said.

DIG Rohana said those who had been granted bail couldn’t be immediately released as the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) had issued specific instructions on subjecting inmates to two weeks quarantine before release.

DIG Rohana said that following the removal of the injured and the dead to the Ragama hospital, those granted bail and infected inmates had been moved to a special section within the Welikada Prison complex and about 2,400 remained in the Mahara Prison.

Rohana said that among them were a large number of inmates who hadn’t been involved in violence. Acknowledging that the prisons complex wasn’t yet under the control of the jailers, the DIG said that the Police, including the Special Task Force (STF) and the Prison security were making plans to carry out an operation to restore normalcy. He said they would implement a special plan while the police backed by the STF maintained its presence outside the prison.

The police deployment consisted of 400 police and 200 STF personnel.

Both Police and Prisons officers couldn’t confirm whether at least some inmates had managed to escape though they believed such attempts were thwarted.

DIG Rohana said that the rioting inmates had been prevented from seizing the armoury.

The Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence, too, discussed the availability of three varieties of pills totalling 21,000 meant for mental patients at the Prison. Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Gunaratne briefed the CC on the matter and steps taken by authorities to bring the situation under control.

DIG. Rohana told the media that he had requested Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, to leave him out of a special committee headed by retired HC judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena tasked with inquiring into the riot due to conflict of interests as his duties and responsibilities as the Police Spokesperson clashed with the probe undertaken by the committee.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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