Leaked closed circuit television (CCTV) camera footage from the Angunakolapelessa Prison revealed that on 22 November 2018, Prison Police personnel led by the Prison Superintendent chased unarmed and unresisting prisoners in remand custody, got them to crawl and walk on their knees, continuously attacked and assaulted them with batons and in one instance, even kicked a detainee.
The video taken from the newly established Prison which the Government has described as the super Prison, the most luxurious of the country’s institutionalized correctional facilities found within the rehabilitation based penal system, shows Prison personnel (a minimum of 25 to 30) led by the Prison Superintendent, the latter dressed in civvies, chasing unarmed and unresisting (no provocation too) remand prisoners, who were only moments ago asleep and clutching their bed sheets, blankets, pillows and sarongs, into an open yard in one corner of the prison manned from outside of the high barb-wired Prison wall by a guarded watchtower. The remand prisoners are then attacked and assaulted with batons with the Prison Superintendent also dealing blows and clubbing them. The officers then get the detainees to kneel with their hands held high above their heads and to move forward on the gravelly and sandy path on their knees and to even crawl on all fours, all the while continuing to beat them on the soles of their feet, upper (necks, shoulders) and lower backs, hands, and the frontal upper torso.
The video clip with CCTV footage from two camera angles from either side of the yard depicts events which took place from 8.56 a.m. till 9.18 a.m. on the day.
General Secretary of the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP), Sudesh Nandimal Silva on 15 January lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department with evidence of the aforementioned incidents (warning also of the likelihood of the CCTV evidence being deleted and erased). The Committee yesterday (16) lodged the same complaint with the Commissioner General of Prisons of the Prisons Department, the Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms, the latter addressed to Minister Thalatha Atukorale.
The reasons for the above treatment as explained by Silva, who addressing a press conference held yesterday in Colombo, described the abovementioned sequence of events as being part of a “conspiracy” concerns a convoluted plot revolving round the protest held on 21 October 2018 by the Prison inmates against the alleged offensive nature of the search of prisoners visitors by the Police Special Task Force (claims of strip searches).
“The relatives of the prisoners then complained to their incarcerated loved ones that they wouldn’t visit them henceforth if such physical searches which made them including children uncomfortable continued. The detainees in turn complained to the Prison Superintendent who informed the former that there was nothing he could do and to therefore resort to the kind of protest action undergrads take. The detainees protested and during this protest the Prison Superintendent had allegedly put the protestors up to breaking the canteen as there was an alleged financial irregularity involving the canteen. The protestors had declined and subsequently protested demanding the transfer of the Prison Superintendent. This latter protest was settled through the intervention of the Prison top brass. The Prison Superintendent who thereafter lay low, became emboldened after the 26 October 2018 political crisis. Thus, what took place on 22 November 2018 is an act of retaliation and vengeance,” Silva further claimed.
Silva alleged that Prison Superintendent A.W. Siridath Dhammika, Chief Jailor Pradeep Wasantha Kumara, Jailors A.D.S. Samaraweera, Ajith Kumara, Shelton and Abeygunawardena, P. Gamage of the Stores, Storekeeper Indika, Guards Udayantha, Rasika Chandana, Prabath, Kumara and Hewanayake, were among those involved in the said attack.
The acts depicted in the footage constitute ones that fall within the ambit of torture/cruel/inhuman/degrading treatment and/or punishment. The Constitution [Articles 11 and 13(4)], the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No. 22 of 1994, the Prisons Ordinance, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act, No. 4 of 2015 are also applicable in this regard. The judiciary under whose orders prisoners are placed in remand custody too are responsible for them.
CPRP Chairman, Attorney-At-Law Senaka Perera also speaking at the said media briefing, added that the Committee may based on the actions taken in this regard by the relevant authorities or the lack of actions, go to Court to have the criminal law enforced in connection with this case.
When contacted, Dhammika whilst admitting to the treatment and punishment meted out to the remand prisoners, claimed that several incidents prior to the day leading to the continued lack and loss of control of and discipline within the Prison and alleged riotous conduct on the part of two groups of remand prisoners on the day had led to such control action on their part.
“The described incident took place. We only used the officially issued batons and that too lawfully to prevent others from getting hurt. On the day, there was a major riot inside the Prison. Two groups of remand prisoners nearly beat a suspect to death with two iron poles. The iron poles were removed from a door with several prisoners pulling them off it in the presence of the officials. They aimed at the head but the blows hit the shoulder instead, breaking the said bone. We were taking the injured prisoner to the hospital while the described incident was going on. The officers that went to the relevant ward to control the situation were not allowed to leave. We couldn’t even get them out. We could only take one pole into custody while the whereabouts of the other was withheld from us even though the entire clique of prisoners knew its hidden location.”
He further claimed that in the days leading up to the said events, convict H.E. Menaka Sanjeewa alias Ukkuwa from Hokandara was stoned to death, a heroin addict bulldozed past the Prison doctor and escaped in the presence of the Prison officers, and another drug user attempted to jump off the Prison’s roof. “These are all connected to drugs. An internal inquiry was also conducted by us and those prisoners involved in such were produced before the relevant Magistrate.”
Meanwhile, Atukorale yesterday instructed the Prisons Commissioner General to appoint a three-member committee to provide a report regarding the incident prior to 21 January, adding that further action would be taken based on the report. Prisons Commissioner (Administration/Intelligence and Security Divisions), H.M.T.N. Upuldeniya is heading the committee.