By Norman Palihawadane
State Minister of Prison Reform and Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte yesterday told The Island that he had informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he would step down immediately from his post as the State Minister of Prisons. However, he will continue to be the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery Industries.
Minister Ratwatte said that had decided to step down after taking responsibility for the incidents that took place at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons.
Ratwatte is reported to have forced himself into the Anuradhapura prison, on Sunday (12), made two prisoners kneel at gunpoint, threatening to kill them.
The President’s Media Division said that the President had accepted Minister Ratwatte’s resignation.
Ratwatte said that he still held the portfolio of State Minister of Gem and Jewelry Industries.
Ratwatte said: “I served as the State Minister of Prison Reform and Rehabilitation for nine months since Dec 02, last year. I did my best to serve prisons officers and worked to improve welfare of inmates. I have no intention of responding right now to the allegations being raised by various persons and parties who are not only against the government but also to this country. There is an investigation pending. In the meantime, I decided to tender my resignation to avoid causing inconvenience to the government.”
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa as well as opposition parties including the TNA and the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) called for the immediate resignation of the State Minster in the wake of the incidents.
Opposition Leader Premadasa said he vehemently condemned the “disgraceful and illegal behaviour” of the government minister at the Anuradhapura Prison Complex. “This disgusting, unlawful act amply exemplifies the anarchical situation that exists in our country. It is incumbent upon this government to protect the human rights of all citizens of our motherland. This unlawful and despicable act is a further illustration of the precipitous decline in the present human rights situation in our country. I call upon the President for the immediate removal of this minister from office,” Premadasa said.
The TNA called for the removal of State Minister for Prison Management Ratwatte for allegedly threatening to kill prisoners.
“We call on the government to immediately remove the State Minster for Prison Management and have him arrested and charged after an immediate inquiry for allegedly threatening to kill prisoners in Anuradhapura prison on Sunday 12th September,” the TNA said.
The TNPF said that on the evening of the 12th of September the State Minister for Prisons had gone to the Anuradhapura prisons, summoned Tamil political prisoners and had got two of them to kneel in front of him. “The TNPF condemns in the strongest possible terms this dastardly behaviour of the State Minister. Tamil political prisoners are already traumatised for being held in detention under one of the most draconian pieces of legislation known to the world, the PTA,” TNPF said.