Responding to reports that Sri Lanka’s State Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation, Lohan Ratwatte, forcibly entered a state prison in Anuradhapura on 12 September and held Tamil prison inmates incarcerated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) at gunpoint and threatened to kill them, Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director said: “These dumbfounding reports go to show that our ongoing concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s treatment of prisoners, especially the authorities’ torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment of PTA detainees are all too valid. They also demonstrate the level of impunity for criminal behaviour that is indulged at the highest levels of government. There must be a prompt, impartial and effective inquiry and the Minister must be held to account for his actions.
“At yesterday’s UN Human Rights Council session, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister boasted about the early release of 16 Tamil Tiger members under a Presidential pardon. These men were in fact already due for release. Lohan Ratwatte’s alleged conduct further undermines the government’s piecemeal efforts made to address the conditions of PTA prisoners, which is labelled as reconciliation.
“The Foreign Minister also rejected the mechanism being set up to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes for gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka, saying that domestic processes are ‘vigorously addressing the relevant matters.’ Unless Lohan Ratwatte is held to account for his criminal actions, these words will be hard to take seriously.”
Minister Lohan Ratwatte has reportedly resigned from his prisons portfolio in the past few hours, but remains a Government Minister. According to media reports, he forcibly entered Anuradhapura Prison on 12 September where he had sought out Tamil prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). According to media reports, Minister Lohan Ratwatte also forcibly entered Welikada Prison premises over the weekend accompanied by a group of others and under the influence of liquor and verbally abused prison staff. Sri Lanka’s prisons have a history of violence that’s been met with impunity. Welikada is the site of two prison massacres in 1983 and in 2012.
Lohan Ratwatte was charged for the 2001 murder of 10 Muslim youths in Udathalawinna. Along with his father, a former deputy Defence Minister, Lohan Ratwatte was acquitted of all charges by the Colombo High Court in 2006. Five security forces personnel-security guards of the family were convicted and sentenced to death.
The latest incident comes against the backdrop of the ongoing 48th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, where the High Commissioner on Monday expressed concern about deaths in custody and continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials in Sri Lanka. Echoing the concerns raised by the High Commissioner, Amnesty International urged the government to immediately repeal the PTA, which continues to be used to detain hundreds of people for prolonged periods without trial.