Speculation is rife of further violence expected inside the Mahara Prison complex overnight Tuesday, as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made quiet moves to appoint Kandy District MP Lohan Ratwatte as prisons minister to quell the prisoners’ protests.
Ratwatte was the primary accused in the December 2001 Udathalawinna Massacre, before a High Court acquitted him and convicted five military personnel who were Ratwatte’s bodyguards of the gruesome murder of Muslims. Ratwatte was also implicated in inciting the 2018 Digana anti-Muslim riots although the investigation never went further due to the intervention of President Maithripala Sirisena.
Unable to stop the ongoing inmate protests over the spread of corona virus inside the prison the Government was planning to send troops in on Tuesday night, highly placed sources told Colombo Telegraph.
Activists for prisoners’ rights are expressing deep concern about the threat of fresh violence inside Mahara on Tuesday or Wednesday night.
Thousands of prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 with the virus spreading like wildfire inside the crowded incarceration centres islandwide.
Former CID Director Shani Abeysekera who recently tested positive for the COVID-19 also contracted the virus at the Mahara Prison where he was being held in remand.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Ratwatte is to be appointed Minister of Prisons in order to oversee the “inquiry” into the shootings inside the Mahara prison that left 11 inmates dead and more than 100 hospitalised. Ragama hospital authorities said that already 38 inmates admitted for injuries had tested positive for the corona virus.
In Parliament on Tuesday (1), opposition MPs raised the issue of the Government’s duty to protect prisoners and those in state custody.
Minister Wimal Weerawansa responded to the calls by claiming an international conspiracy to incite the riot within prison walls, to bring the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa into disrepute. The Mahara Prison shootings were not a result of overcrowding and the rapid spread of corona virus, Weerawansa claimed, but an attempt to cause murder inside prison walls during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency.
Weerawansa cited an “intelligence report” which claimed that a narcotic known as “reverse” had been smuggled into the prison and tested on inmates to induce a riot.
“When one uses this drug, it makes you want to see blood,” Minister Weerawansa claimed, adding that the distribution of the drug was aimed at encouraging cannibalism among the inmates.
As if on cue, police officers investigating the Mahara Prison shootings issued a media release saying 21,000 pills were missing from the prison dispensary.
The Mahara Prison shootings held echoes of the Welikada prison massacre of November 2012, when 27 inmates were shot in cold blood. Prisons Superintendents in charge at the time testified during the trial that the STF personnel who stormed the prison had walked in with something known as “Gota’s List” for taking out key inmates and witnesses incarcerated at Welikada.