1 July, 2022


A Bloody Riot

By Kath Noble

Kath Noble

There was one thing that everybody was sure of on Friday afternoon as news of the riot at Welikada prison broke – there would be a lot of bodies.

And so it happened. Twenty-seven deaths had been announced by Saturday morning. The stand-off lasted for an hour, as inmates somehow managed to get the better of not just their regular guards but 200 fully-armed members of the STF. They battled their way through clouds of tear gas to break into the armoury, then made their way up to the roof with a haul of more than 80 guns, from where they proceeded to shoot at passers-by. Some escaped, somehow.

This story is in itself fairly extraordinary.

But so too was our reaction. We knew very well that a lot of people would end up dead.

Some said it approvingly. Prisoners may be human beings, as the sign on the wall declares, but human beings can behave worse than animals. Welikada houses convicted rapists and murderers, amongst others, and some people wouldn’t mind seeing them knocked off, legally or otherwise.

This constituency is behind the intermittent attempts to revive the death penalty, which they regard as cheaper and easier than keeping criminals in prison. And cheap and easy is all the rage these days.

It doesn’t matter to the Government whether restarting executions really does reduce the crime rate, since the objective is not to achieve anything but just to look like it is trying. That is, when it can’t persuade us that it is only media coverage of crime that needs to be reduced! Its representatives say the funniest things. Like when a minister explained how criminals are needed for election campaigns. Well, then we’ll just have to put up with crime!

Even cheaper and easier than executing prisoners is shooting them in a riot, of course.

This group argued that we need not worry about how a simple search got so out of control since the deaths are to be welcomed. They aren’t interested in investigating what happened.

I fear that after three decades of war, there are rather more people in this camp than ‘normal’.

The question for Sri Lanka is how to ‘normalise’ – how to get back to being a society that in general abhors killing in all its forms. (Before picking up their pens to complain that Western nations kill people all the time, readers might consider checking on how many occasions I have said exactly that in these pages. Such knee jerk reactions are another element of the war mentality that has to go – we need more thoughtfulness and less shouting at each other.)

The other reaction to the riot was even less encouraging. These were the people arguing that the incident was the result of a plot by the Defence Ministry, either to create an excuse to bring prisons under its purview, or even more disturbingly to get rid of a few inconvenient underworld leaders. Excessive violence was thus part of the plan. For them, it was never supposed to be a simple search.

They won’t believe the findings of any investigation, since they are already convinced that it won’t be conducted properly.

Part of ‘normalcy’ is citizens generally having confidence in the Government, or rather in the checks and balances to which it is subject. They should believe that elections are free, that the police can be trusted to maintain law and order, that courts give people a fair trial and that officials and politicians do their duty, and that when this isn’t the case, there are mechanisms that can be used to put things right. They should trust that they can effect change when it is needed.

But rather than moving towards this ideal, now that it is free of the pressures of war, Sri Lanka seems to be gradually slipping away in the opposite direction.

It is not a matter of popularity. Mahinda Rajapaksa would still win a re-run of either presidential poll, whether against Sarath Fonseka or Ranil Wickremasinghe. A lot of people like him, or at least prefer him to the alternatives on offer. The problem is power.

Even his own voters can see that he has too much of it.

I would like to think that the impeachment of the Chief Justice will be a turning point – that it will prove to be an outrage too far. The charges against Shirani Bandaranayake, which finally emerged last week, certainly encourage such an outcome, especially in combination with her letter of refutation that was sent to media outlets who published them. If it proves accurate, they boil down to being married to somebody who has been named in a complaint to the Bribery Commission – a case that is being pursued primarily to be able to argue that Shirani Bandaranayake must be impeached!

(Of course her husband shouldn’t have been holding the position that has got him into trouble in the first place, but that’s another matter. Let’s drop it – her predecessors haven’t had husbands.)

However, there is probably still a long way to go. The Government won’t really mind how it looks so long as the Opposition remains in disarray.

While they recover, the only thing the rest of us can do is continue to apply pressure.

The Chief Justice must argue her case, and the media should ensure that the public hears as much about her defence as it does from the Government.

And the Government must be pushed to investigate what happened at Welikada.

Killing twenty-seven inmates in a prison riot cannot be practically unavoidable, and it should not be allowed to pass as either morally acceptable or sadly inevitable. The Government will no doubt try to put the blame on the guards, who are already being accused of having incited or assisted their wards. The rumours may even be true, since we know that some of them are doing very good business in contraband, most disturbingly phones via which some underworld leaders are said to be continuing to run their criminal networks from their cells.

But even if the guards helped, the inmates were stuck inside four walls that were quickly surrounded with armoured vehicles, and they had limited ammunition.

There is certainly a need to clean up prisons, but this incident cannot justify giving more power to another person who already has plenty. That is, the Defence Secretary.

In the end, this would bring more problems than it solved.

Regular guards can do only limited damage. They can take money in exchange for allowing contraband to get into prisons, but at least they cannot let the inmates out!

I am reminded of an expose about goings-on in prisons in India that appeared in the press there a few months ago. A journalist filmed a well-known gangster politician from Uttar Pradesh (where Mervyn Silva wouldn’t last long!), who had finally been convicted of the murder of his mistress after dozens of cases had been dropped due to the curious disappearance of evidence and witnesses, walking out of the jail in which he was supposedly being held for what turned out to be his daily turn around town. Assembly elections had thrown out the administration that had locked him up, and he was to all intents and purposes a free man, albeit keeping up appearances by returning to the jail to sleep. His luxury car, complete with driver and personal assistant, not to mention his laptop and mobile phone, picked him up in time for a hearty lunch. And having eaten, he proceeded to his meetings. More than 100 people came to see him in what was essentially his office on each and every afternoon, to submit petitions as if to their MP, to make deals and – allegedly – to organise crime.

The same piece listed a most impressive array of criminals the new administration had in its ranks, having unofficially helped them to get out of prison, one way or another.

This is ‘normal’ for Uttar Pradesh.

Sri Lanka must do better. And we should help the country to get back on the right track by trying to understand why we all knew in advance that the Welikada prison riot would end so bloodily.

*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed online at http://kathnoble.wordpress.com. She may be contacted at kathnoble99@gmail.com.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    “Repeat offenders” Jumping off the roof of Welikade Jail well its s a repeat performance.

    The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of constructive criticism.

    For just about 5 years after independence and when it was still Ceylon it was like this:The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law & we were punished a second time when we got home! We had Freedom, Failure, Success and Responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!
    1956 was the dawn of Race , Religion Region politics and bloodshed. The root cause of their thinking and believing the reported speech is due to the fact that Buddhism as known to Lankans was written 400 years after the death of the Gautama. Here we hardly know how much our granddads knew even with scripts while they are supposed to have memorized it for 6 generations. The Chinese got the script right first time because they were civilized and had their own language. The Mahayana permits marriage so there are no pedophiles. Why don’t they invite the Dalai Lama? The west is still the major market for all SL exports not China or Russia.

    Don’t you know what happened when Sirima confiscated the sterling estates; between 70/77 Lankans were in bins looking for rice that would have fallen from the moon (it is sad but true).It was a mini trade embargo where the IMF/WB were not willing to give to the Government but to the disciplined largest industrialist Gyanam (he had not been to the university but was a clear thinker like in carpet beggars) Lankans have been boasting of a literacy rate of 98% from the 60’s. Similar to religion, patriotism is an emotion, as opposed to a rational thought process. Studies and surveys have consistently indicated that approximately 90% of persons in any given country have strong patriotic sentiments. This percentage is similar to the percentage of people involved in other faith-based activities, such as religion. This same percentage also reflects the bell-curve of the general intelligence level of a population: 90% of all persons in Sri Lankan population group register an IQ below 70. So how can one expect them to understand constitution, law and its ramifications? Only their tummy knows best like in 70/77 and they never voted it again except because of the struggle in the north.

    Prof Shlomo Sands of Tel Aviv best seller “The Invention of The Jewish People” Israel is the playground for London and New York. Reading this it would give a much clearer picture why SL and the Tyrant is being pampered by the west importing and providing grants, aid, and tourism. Why is Victoria’s secret there but not in the Philippines or Vietnam? bLiars prodigy Ashton has the charisma of a caravan site. Sixty nine per cent of 324 Brussels “policy-makers”, with EU and national officials constituting the largest group, ranked Europe’s first foreign minister as “disappointing” or “below average”.

    Practically the only way to dry the swamp of radical Islam is through economic development and an improved standard of living.- Yitzhak Rabin
    What has happened to the above development?? The answer is blowing in the wind.

    Nehru had an inferiority complex not only did he want to rule in his own words “the dark skins to the south and beyond” which was Ceylon. Quite rightly his daughter Indira married a Indo European Feroze Gandhi like Jinnah (Petit). It was very convenient for Nehru to keep UP and Bihar with 254 seats and uneducated 90% with I.Q. below 50 so that a dynasty may thrive and it has even with “Nalli Cut” and tyranny. If you read the speech Swami Vivekananda (Bengali) made in the US house of religions he talks about the hospitality of the Guajarati’s; they welcomed the Parses and also spread Islam as far as Indonesia and that is the irony today when western media accuse them of religious violence which is master minded by Graft Congress.

    Let’s hope Narendra Singh Modi who is transparent and accountable wins the election in 2014 and becomes PM and may be then SL will wake up one day stunned(Vijaya too came from Guajarat not Bihar see the frescos and the inscription on a rock at east of Kailash N.Delhi where the bandit queen roamed.)

    • 0

      Your knowledges and insights must qualify you to be able to write an article to CT under your own name. Do give it some thought…

      • 0

        Yes indeed, incoherent drivel does seem to have become the flavour of the month around here.

      • 0


        First try asking a Butcher for the Name of his favourite Pig?? OMG! :)

        Rajapakistan, coming run for it….

  • 0

    Welikada is only part of the big picture where the Defence Ministry is intruding on the functions of Civilian Administration and Society. Civilians have the freedom to think objectively and improve their systems and processes whereas the military does not think, it obeys orders from the hierachy which is only one or handfull of people.

    Further the subject of criminality and punishment is in the domain of the behavioral sciences and human rights. Administrators need to qualified and well versed in this subject not merely the security aspect. Whereas the security aspects may be improved in consultation with the MOD, the administration, management and rehabilitaion of prisoners must be in the hands of civilians and professionals. As always these problems are occuring because the political establishment persists in appointing unsuitable people to any position. Jack of all trades, Master on none.

  • 0

    I don’t think it takes great insight or prophesy to foresee bloodshed ahead when rapists and murderers riot in a prison.

    • 0

      What an attitude from a foot solider out of the pits who also visits Church for a pick.

      “Prisons are meant to house offenders so that they may not reoffend.” What do politicians and soldiers do? They just pocket the money to be spent on rehabilitation.Yes in this instance murder.

      Prisons are one of the institutions the British left behind apart from the school your Alma Mater that you were educated in.

      Happily Agnostic. ;)

    • 0

      What an attitude from the son of prostitute who visits brothels for a pick.

      Prisons are meant primarily to punish. Rehabilitation can be offered to those who are interested, not to those who steal automatic rifles and run rampage. You were asked which rehabilitation programs have had their monies pocketed by politicians and soldiers, but alas you cannot answer.

      You should have signed off as “Happily Lunatic” instead of using yet another word you don’t understand :D

      • 0

        Controller CT
        The foot soldier troll has used personally abusive language “son of prostitute” not knowing his own interbreeding background. PLEASE have his comment removed as you have done with him before.He does this for a living lying while I stick to facts for fun and knowledge.

  • 0

    More than 90 percent of all the prisoners in our Lankan prisons have been abused as children. Prisons don’t rehabilitate, they don’t punish, they don’t protect, so what the hell do they do?

    We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them.- Vladimir Putin ~)

    Concept of Prisons:

    Prisons are for Reform of the Inmates so that they may not reoffend.:)

    In the US the Salvation Army provides the facilities for prisoners to work as fitters for industry and it augers well economically for both the industry and prisoner as training and some money when he is finally released on completion of rehabilitation.

    The same is applied in the Netherlands by the Salvation Army.

    China on the other hand has mastered it and is now sending the prisoners overseas to carry out infrastructure works.

    How can the two brothers Defence and Development collaborate in this regard with the internationally acclaimed leaders?? _)

  • 0


  • 0

    SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST is the name of the game.

    All religions convey a similar message ” PEACE, TRUTH, HARMONY “.

    Internationally, people like us who want to abuse our power, have tainted the different religions inciting zeal, patriotism, etc. where most of the adherents have lost sight of the civil code most religions advocate.

    We have political appointees taking over prestigious positions in religious organizations – just so that we only have to make a suggestion and we have these appointees going the extra mile to serve us by distorting the religious teachings. Mervyn de Silva serves to prove my point.

    Therefore, we have factions in most religions, infighting for power. Then we have the powers that be making sacrilegious statements against one or the other religions … allowing for tussle for power.

    While we, sit back and enjoy the mayhem …. watching people maim and kill each other ………

    The Prison fiasco had its reasons ……… the reason(s) being so simply absurd …. most people will dismiss it as fiction …

    It is interesting that even in this thread the substance is almost forgotten … each person calling the other names ………. so in such forums nothing is established ……. expect what we want to be established … AS IS in parliament ………

    Enjoy you life in the future …. CITIZENS of my COUNTRY cause you can do nothing to change it.

    Your misguided values in life ……… Dont qualify you to a better form of governement.

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