28 September, 2023


Black July: Further Indirect Evidence Of State Involvement

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 29

We have found involved in the massacres, on the best testimony available, Rogers Jayasekere of Kelaniya, whose family were strong supporters of Jayewardene. Then we have the inexplicable behaviour of the Army on 25th July. Quite apart from their behaviour when the attack began, what is more disturbing is their preventing Jansz from taking the injured to hospital and then doing nothing while the injured were being attacked. Here we have some jailors leading the attack on injured prisoners, the Army just watching after preventing the Police from coming to the aid of the victims, and the ASPs presumably helpless. The Army HQ was no doubt informed of what was going on.

It would have been better for the ASPs Amarasinghe and Munaweera, and Lt. Hathurusinghe, if the inquest had cleared up this matter rather than leaving all three of them under suspicion of complicity. Everyone concerned at the inquest must have known that this had happened and that even prisoners yet breathing were heaped into the truck to asphyxiate. Jansz would no doubt have told Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary, Justice, who arranged for the inquest.

In deliberately not touching on this episode, of which the inquest report contains tell-tale indications, it was not individuals that the legal professionals were trying to protect – not a couple of jailors, ASPs or a lieutenant. There was something more.

We have been able to get some partial answers to the glaring question about the seeming absence of the SP and ASPs during the second massacre of 27th July. The answer we got is that they were there. They were very much aware that the situation was bad. In the morning, SP Leo de Silva and ASP Munaweera were in conference with Jansz in the Commissioner’s office just outside Welikade prison.

Their common concern was that the tense situation in the prisons and about getting the Tamil prisoners out. Jansz had informed Mervyn Wijesinghe in the morning that he feared a second attack on the Tamil PTA prisoners. That he was aware of such a prospect ‘by morning’ (inquest report) indicates that this happened quite early. While this conference was going on, according to one of those present, a telephone call came from Chief Jailor Karunaratne to Jansz, informing them that things were becoming worse, meaning presumably that he was getting more reports of something nasty afoot.

Where Jansz and the other leading officials were concerned there was an emergency, and their professionalism was on trial. The challenge was to maintain order until the PTA detainees had been despatched to safety. After this conference at the Prison HQ Jansz went to the Security Council and by 2.00 PM the plans to evacuate the 37 detainees were finalised (inquest report). He returned to the HQ about 4.15 PM after discussing arrangements with Brigadier Madawela. Jayewardene had himself observed that Jansz was worn down.

It is quite inconceivable that those like SP Leo de Silva and the ASPs who shared the same anxiety, simply went home. Under the circumstances, they would have waited anxiously to hear from Jansz upon his return from the Security Council meeting. They would have been very alert. We must accept the testimony given by one of them that they were all there – in the prison.

What is given in the report is a complete anti- climax to the sense of exigency in the morning. Nothing could be more incompetent and unprofessional. Hardly could there be a greater affront to the reputed professional that Leo de Silva was.

The Tamil prisoners concerned were locked up in their cells in spite of the greater peril to which they were, as the result, exposed as they had themselves pointed out to the authorities. The three senior officers seemed to be absent. The gate of the Chapel A3 was opened apparently to give dinner to the dangerous prisoners while they were let loose in the corridor. This permitted them to escape and stage an attack with the ease of going to a party. The Chief Jailor who said he was in charge

claimed that he had posted armed guards outside, and asked the Army to increase the guard, to thwart a mass jail-break. Of such a plan there was not the slightest evidence, despite the Magistrate stretching the evidence past limits of credibility to maintain that there was one. Instead of answering the alarm and coming to the rescue, the Army, this time under Lt. Seneviratne, ran off elsewhere. The Lieutenant, according to the Chief Jailor’s uncontested testimony, went to put down an armed riot in the Remand Prison – one that was total fiction.

There is no evidence in the proceedings of that morning that the possibility of a mass escape was being considered seriously. Jansz’s call to Mervyn Wijesinghe, the discussion in his office, his subsequent discussion with the Security Council and his request to Brigadier Madawela to keep a squad ready for emergency action, had all to do with the security and transfer of Tamil PTA detainees. In running off elsewhere, Lt. Seneviratne showed no inkling of anticipating a mass escape from Welikade prison.

Looking back now, there is a slight ambiguity in the Chief Jailor’s claim:- viz. “Up to this point to the best of my knowledge there were no officers superior to me in office in the compound. As the most superior officer available at that time… I had in that situation to make decisions…” Could it be that the SP and ASPs were not present in the prison ‘compound’ at the time of the second attack?

Through well-wishers we made parallel queries from Saravanaperumal Yogarajah, a survivor, whose testimony was quoted in the last chapter, and Danny Munaweera, who was then ASP. Yogarajah had referred to the SP inquiring after him while he lay injured after the second attack. We wished to know if he had erroneously referred to the Chief Jailor as SP – the distinction was clear at that time since the former wore uniform while the SP and ASPs wore plain clothes. Yogarajah identified his interlocutor as ASP Danny Munaweera. Danny Munaweera, when asked, said that he had been there and recalled that SP Leo de Silva too was present and had gone into the YOB to see the injured. There was yet a possibility that they were out of the ‘compound’ at the time the violence started, if Janz had summoned them. Even then they would have heard the alarm and come rushing in, since Jansz’s office adjoins the prison, from where Jansz had himself come rushing in as soon as the alarm was raised on the 25th. There would have been no call on the Chief Jailor to ‘make decisions’. Jansz does not think that he would have summoned Leo de Silva, as the violence began soon after he arrived from Army HQ, giving him just enough time to phone for the emergency squad and rush over to the prison.

It is clear that Leo de Silva and the ASPs were there and would have been immediately alerted about the attack. Why Chief Jailor Karunaratne dubiously admitted to being in charge and took upon himself the task of telling the inquest untenable stories remains to be explained. Only one solution suggests itself.

There was a state of open insubordination in the prison. From the attack on the injured prisoners by members of the prison staff on the 25th which they were privy to, Munaweera and Amarasinghe knew the source of that insubordination. Leo de Silva, we may infer, took up the position that if he were to testify at the inquest, he would not cover up something so glaringly scandalous and compromise himself.

This is also suggested by what happened some years later when the Civil Rights Movement started legal proceedings on behalf of some of the victims. Both Jansz and Leo de Silva, by then retired, took up the position that they would tell the truth in open court. The State settled out court, to avoid a hearing.

The inquest has clearly recorded claims that do not stand up to scrutiny and has tried hard to pretend that the SP and ASPs did not exist. Some crucial testimony from Yogarajah appearing in Amudhu failed to appear in the inquest report. The Magistrate was at pains to record that Yogarajah did not ‘know’ any of the attackers rather than the fact that he had ‘identified’ Sepala Ekanayake as being among them. It was a rigged inquest and required three different parties to play the game – the Magistrate, the AG’s men and the Police who were ordered to conduct investigations and report to him.

If we accept that there was no riot, but that the second attack in particular, was executed by some members of the prison staff, we could dismiss most of the testimony at the inquest as fiction. Some of it is obviously so as we have pointed out. We also need to be very sceptical about the escape of the dangerous criminals from A3, who had readily armed themselves. The inquest itself comes out mainly as a staged affair.

Note the reference to identification and the failure to hold an identification parade discussed in the last chapter.

Further, if members of the prison staff, including jailors, could act with such blatant impunity on two occasions over three days, in defiance of the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent, their source of power must emerge from a much higher authority. To place this source, look at two other aspects in the drama. One is the staged inquests, and the other is the role of the Army guarding the prison. The first occasion was bad enough. On the second, the highest levels of government had been warned in the morning of an impending attack and the safety of the prisoners had undoubtedly featured at the cabinet meeting in the morning of the 27th. And what does the army officer do when the attack takes place? He goes off on a fictitious errand. We have pointed out earlier (Chapters 9 & 10) that the Army was at this stage acting under orders rather than out of indiscipline.

The range of state agencies – Prisons, Army, Judiciary and Police – involved in both the action and its cover up, places the source of the operation at cabinet level. We may also mention here the Government’s obsessive interest in legislation to facilitate extra-judicial executions down to the eve of the July 1983 violence. Sinha Ratnatunga in his book (see Sect. 12.2) informs us that on the 27th two ministers who were close to Jayewardene objected to the surviving prisoners being transferred to Jaffna as Jayewardene proposed. Although Ratnatunga is unclear about the timing of the objection, we may take it to have been at the cabinet meeting in the morning, since the transfer of prisoners would have come up there. Mervyn Wijesinghe on receiving alarm from Jansz in the morning would have, being a cabinet secretary, quickly referred it to the Cabinet. What is important is that the proposed transfer of prisoners was well known to those in authority many hours in advance.

Jayewardene too would have summoned Jansz to the Security Council only to discuss arrangements and not to have a debate about whether to transfer or not. Jansz told the inquest that by about 2.00 PM arrangements for transfer had been finalised. This suggests that Jayewardene had discussed it at the cabinet meeting in the morning. These are conditions where the interested parties would have sent messages to finish the job quickly, even if it meant going further than they went on the first occasion to neutralise officers who did not co- operate.

Lending complicity was not a problem for the Army. The Army Commander Tissa Weeratunge had been in charge of the 1979 operation in Jaffna where torture and extra- judicial executions were systematically employed for the first time, giving us an insight into his mind.

The considerations above further strengthen the evidence for the July holocaust having been planned and executed by the government of the day. Where killing came explicitly into the plan, the Welikade massacres took pride of place.

In forming our conclusions, we have given credit to Jansz and Leo de Silva for having a basic decency that led them to react against these massacres as inherently abhorrent. It is a decency which the government and cabinet of the day lacked. It is the actions of such officials motivated by this sense of decency that have made the inquest reports very revealing documents and a poor job at a cover up. It stands to the credit of Leo de Silva and his two ASPs that they declined to testify misleadingly at the second inquest, thus revealing its manifest difficulties.

What we cannot know are the precise links between the Cabinet and the events in the prison. But then again, there are tell-tale indications strewn here and there which give us a fair idea. More can of course be revealed by the former ASPs, former AG Thilak Marapone (now MP) and by the present SG (Solicitor General) C.R. de Silva. It is better for their name if they do.

To be continued..

Part one – Sri Lanka’s Black July: Borella, 24th Evening

Part two – Sri Lanka’s Black July: What Really Happened At Kanatte?

Part three – Black July: ‘Api Suddha Kara’ – JR’s Failure To Declare Curfew

Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up

Part five –  30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot

Part six  – Black July: The Testimony Of Lionel Bopage, Then General Secretary Of The JVP

Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama

Part eight – What Was Behind Tiger Friday – 29th July? -The Significance Of The Pettah

Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983

Part ten –  Sri Lanka’s Black July: A Family’s Tragedy In Colombo

Part eleven –  Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers

Part twelve –  Welikade Prison Massacres: The First Massacre: 25th July 1983

Part thirteen –  Welikade Prison Massacres: Testimonies Given At The Magistrate’s Inquest

Part fourteen –  Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest

Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983

Part sixteen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Chief Jailor Observed Army Commandos Coming In

Part seventeen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Postscript

Part eighteen – July 1983: Planned By The State Or Spontaneous Mob Action?

Part nineteen – July 1983: Ranil Wickremasinghe Followed Cyril Mathew

Part twenty – Events Of 24th July – The Eve Of The Holocaust: Who Wanted A Military Funeral?

Part twenty one –  Events Of 24th July: What Were The Army’s Orders?

Part twenty two – Black July: Further Evidence Of Advance Planning

Part twenty three – Black July: The JSS Goon Squad Regime

Part twenty four – Institutional Implications Of The JSS And Black July

Part twenty five – Black July: Ranil Wickremesinghe, Gonalwela Sunil And The Kelaniya University

Part twenty six – Black July: Army Hathurusinghe Prevented Police From Assisting Prison Victims Under Attack

Part twenty seven – Black July: Justice Of Peace Gonawela Sunil And The Killings In Prison

Part twenty eight – Prison Massacre And The Alitalia Hijacker Sepala Ekanayake

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued..

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Non state actors cannot commit war crimes.

    This is why non state actors should be encouraged, provided with weapons, etc. to do what the state cannot legally do.

    That is what LTTE did and that is what counter LTTE groups should also do. An eye for an eye.

    • 0

      Fathima you idiot, stop accusing LTTE for everything and start accusing you Sonhala government, at the end of the day they are the ones who is going to keep you starving.

      • 0


  • 0

    What is you problem do you giving an idea for another riots ?

  • 0

    AS a Junior Counsel to Siva Annan (the Late Mr.M.Sivasithamparam) I had represented many of the political prisoners, (Thangapthurai, Kuttimani, Jegan, Thevan & others) who were later killed in the July 1983 Welikade massacre, with official connivance. When I visited Amnesty International Hs. Qrs. in London, UK in early 1984, the AI officials showed me series of letters they had addressed to Sri Lankan govt., urging the govt to hold an independent inquiry into the massacre. Let alone an inquiry, the AI did not get even an acknowledgement from SL. -Karikalan

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