Whatever reason the Regime and its officials may spin, the killing of 27 prisoners at Welikada constitutes a massacre, and the perpetrators and their commanding officers should be prosecuted for this gross and abominable crime against the people.
The known facts of the case are that the STF, later backed by the SF, had entered the prison claiming that they were there to conduct a search, and that an armed conflict had broken out between them and some prisoners, resulting in the killing of 27 prisoners and injuring 59. The first thing to be stated is that neither the STF nor any other regular outside law enforcement agency, has a legal right to enter the prison with arms and engage in such searches. The law stipulates that only the prison authorities have the right to deploy its security guards for any such purpose. Who then, ordered this search? What was the reason to override the authority of the prison officials?
There are of course conflicting versions of the events that unfolded. One official version given by Minister Gajadeera is that some inmates had broken into the medicine cabinet and had taken some drugs and gone berserk. Whereupon the prison guards had tried to quell them, other prisoners had begun attacking them. It was then that the STF was called in to quell a prison riot. All those who were killed and wounded were victims of an effort to crush this prison riot. Another version is that the STF entered on its own, without any provocation. Upon entering the premises, the STF personnel had stormed the cells to engage in a command style search operation, and, as it appeared, started to look for selected targets. They had fired tear gas into the cells when the prisoners had begun to get agitated. According to this version, the STF had then handcuffed and brought some prisoners to the open and shot them. Some inmates had broken into the armory and accessed some weapons to defend themselves. They had then fired into the air in self-defense to give some warning that this assault should be stopped. It is alleged that it was after the situation had been brought under control, that the STF.SF forces, aided by CID officers, had brought other prisoners together and shot and killed them, to make up a total of 27. If this scenario is correct, what was the reason? Was it a vendetta carried out against selected targets that could have compromised the Regime and its favored war lords? The accused in the murder of two Bhikkus at the Raja Maha Viharaya in Kotte was also selectively shot and killed. Did the heavily armed STF enter to make an illegal search in the dead of night? Or, did it respond to a need to quell an armed prison riot? Or, did it enter under a plan to achieve any other objective or agenda? Like the litany of other official inquiries, will these – 4 in all!- reveal the truth and bring the real criminals to justice?
It is the supreme duty of the State to protect the life and freedoms of prisoners who are brought under the custody of the State. We remember how, in 1983, 53 Tamil political prisoners kept in maximum security at the same Welikada prison were brutally massacred at the instigation of ministers of the state, with complete impunity. Two alleged ex-LTTE detainees were also tortured and killed by the STF in Vavuniya, in the course of suppressing a ‘prison revolt’. The continuing reign of terror in the North East against the oppressed Tamil people has long since begun to stalk and kill workers, fishermen, journalists, political activists and student leaders in open broad daylight.
In the context of the intensifying militarization of the political order, the unabated culture of impunity and the abuse of the Rule of Law, along with the centralization of absolute state power in the hands of the ruling Rajapakse troika, this outright massacre of prisoners has to be condemned by all citizens who cherish life and freedom. We demand a full scale, impartial investigation into this massacre and the perpetrators of this heinous crime be held accountable to the people.
*The writer is the Secretary, Ceylon Communist Party-Maoist