By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 17 – Welikade Prison Massacres:
Many years have flown since that eventful month of July 1983. But it would be wrong to say that the dark secrets of Welikade prison lie buried in the sands of time. Their effects are still with us. Those who lived through it remain haunted by the experience. Many of the prisoners who survived went on to become militant leaders, who were dedicated to fighting the State. Some in turn became killers. Mr. and Mrs. Nithyananthan rejoined the LTTE in India and left in disillusionment the following year. Fr. Singarayar re-established contact with the LTTE, and died in Jaffna in 1993, a lonely and broken man. Fr. Sinnarasa who escaped to India in September 1983 distanced himself from the LTTE for several years, but is now in North America campaigning for the LTTE in a spirit of blind hatred not different from that which moved the Cyril Mathews of July 1983. Arulanandam David of the Gandhiyam lives in India, a man of gentle pursuits, dabbling in literary and philosophical matters. But in his political opinion he is perhaps even more a blind Eelamist, dreaming of a Tamil Israel, supporting the group which tortured and killed several of his old friends in the PLOTE. Douglas Devananda now leads the EPDP and once again narrowly survived after a second prison attack on him at Kalutara. He was badly mauled by LTTE suspects whom he visited as an MP in 1998.
Chief Jailor Karunaratne moved on to the Public Service Commission. Rogers Jayasekere who retired to his home in Kelaniya is still reported as living but deranged in mind. Jansz became Commissioner and later succeeded Justice Soza as Chairman of the Human Rights Task Force in 1994. H.G. Dharmadasa became Commissioner of Prisons and a particular incident is worth recording. Following the LTTE’s Pettah bomb blast in April 1987 there was tension in Welikade Prison. The bomb blast, which ended the Government’s unilateral ceasefire, had killed nearly 120 civilians in Colombo’s main bus terminus. Dharmadasa quickly moved the PTA detainees to the female ward. Upon receiving an alarm about an attempt on the Tamil detainees, Dharmadasa went and stood against a hole some Sinhalese prisoners were trying to make, with his hands stretched out. He was bodily carried away, but the attempt to get at the Tamil prisoners stopped.
He then brought the Tamil prisoners temporarily to the Prison HQ, and with the consent of the Principal, Mr. Gunasinghe, housed them in the Nalanda College boarding and later moved them to Boossa. He was recently on the Disappearance Commission. Those who survived the 1983 jail massacre are quick to acknowledge that there were several decent members of the prison staff around (e.g. the jail guard in C3 who tried hard to protect them). They also have a strong word of appreciation for the commando unit under Major Sunil Peiris. The government of the day chose to blacken the name of the entire prison service and, to this end, suppress the recording of deeds that deserved commendation. This was accomplished through holding an inquest calculated to whitewash its misdeeds and those of its agents.
The Chief Magistrate Keerthi Srilal Wijewardene must have been a most unhappy man. No good professional man likes his services being abused in an unprofessional capacity. This is what the authorities did to him, although he appeared reluctant to undertake the inquest knowing what was expected. He went onto become district judge in his native place, Badulla, and became the first Director for Human Rights at the Commission for the Elimination of Discrimination and the Monitoring of Fundamental Rights, of which H.W. Jayewardene, the president’s brother, was chairman. Although Wijewardene’s career prospects were looking bright, he died on 13th February 1988,a young man aged 46, as fate would have it.
The two inquest reports convey a poor impression of his merits as a magistrate. However his scholarly attainments marked him out for a bright career as could be seen from the report in the Sun (15.2.88): “A brilliant student of St. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, where he won several prizes including the Pieris-Siriwardene Memorial, the Warden Buck Memorial and the Arndt Memorial. Mr. Wijewardene also won a string of prizes at the Ceylon Law College, coming first in the final year examination. He was also president of the Alumni Association for the UN, Far East and Asia Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders.” He was another victim of the state culture. Those who knew him at school thought him a fair-minded man, though perhaps not a strong man. Marapone was then his contemporary.
Tilak Marapone went on to become Attorney General, a post which he resigned when the UNP lost power in 1994. C.R. de Silva was recently Deputy Solicitor General is charge of criminal matters, the same post which Marapone had held in July 1983. He is now Solicitor General.
It is clear that the hand of the State was laid very heavily to cover up wrongdoing and to protect prison officials and the Army. But there remains the question of whether these massacres were planned in advance or whether they arose as a spontaneous response to what was going on outside – those in the prison as it were doing their bit for the ‘Sinhalese Race’? It would thus seem that the answer to the question, whether spontaneous or pre-planned, would be relevant for establishing a correspondence between events both inside and outside the prison. During a further conversation about the prison massacres, Jansz was in an easier frame of mind. He remarked quite uncharacteristically, “On looking back it was all well-planned!”.
The court actions of the families assisted by the CRM dragged on for about 5 years. Both sides listed Jansz and Leo de Silva, who had by then retired, as witnesses. Both declined to go for any consultations with either side. Eventually the cases were settled with the State making ex-gratia payments to the families without accepting responsibility.
To be continued..
Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up
Part five – 30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot
Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama
Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983
Part eleven – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers
Part fourteen – Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest
Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983
*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..