‘Govt. actions make promises on domestic mechanisms a joke’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday (26) accused the government of having suppressed a proper investigation into death threats the then Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte issued to a group of ex-LTTE cadres held at the Anuradhapura prison on the late afternoon of 12 Sept.
Batticaloa District TNA lawmaker Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam told The Island that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was yet to record the statements of those threatened by Ratwatte, who continued to be the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related industries.
Rasamanickam said so after meeting eight of those who had been threatened by the Kandy District MP. He accompanied TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and Acting General Secretary of the party on Saturday (25) to Anuradhapura, where they spoke to eight out of the 10 ex-LTTE cadres threatened by MP Ratwatte.
Responding to another query, MP Rasamanickam said they had been able to meet only eight inmates. One of them informed the TNA delegation that he didn’t want to cause himself further trouble.
MP Rasamanickam said that the prisoner’s concerns were quite legitimate as the police proved incapable of handling the investigation.
Referring to a special statement made by Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera on Sept 17 regarding IGP C.D. Wickremaratne being instructed to initiate an inquiry into the complaint in respect of MP Ratwatte received by the CID on the previous day, MP Rasamanickam asked for the status of the inquiry.
The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on Sept 16 urging the immediate arrest of MP Ratwatte. CPRP President Attorney at Law Senaka Perera yesterday told The Island that in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code Section 109 (1) the police could have initiated an inquiry without receiving a complaint. Perera alleged that Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake were guilty of dereliction of duty as public officers of the State by both aiding and abetting in Ratwatte’s actions. Perera also pointed out that the CID never contacted them in spite of issuance of the receipt for having recorded their statement.
MP Rasamanickam said that ex-LTTE cadres requested that they be moved to the Jaffna prison and cases against them heard as quickly as possible. The TNA spokesperson said that Anuradhapura incident on Sept. 12 wouldn’t have taken place if the Prisons administration took tangible measures following MP Ratwatte’s drunken raid on the Welikada prison on Sept 6. The government should explain its failure to respond to the Sept.6 raid, MP Rasamanickam said, pointing out the absurdity in underscoring the importance of domestic accountability mechanisms at a time those in judicial custody weren’t safe. The TNA would take up Ratwatte’s matter with the visiting EU delegation.
Asked whether the TNA would use Welikada and Anuradhapura drunken escapades by a Minister to push for required amendments for the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), MP Rasamanickam pointed out that they had been campaigning against the PTA for some time. “There is absolutely no connection between our representations to the EU and other members of the international community as regards the PTA and the death threats directed at ex-LTTE cadres,” MP Rasamanickam said.
The EU delegation is scheduled to meet the TNA tomorrow (28). MP Rasamanickam asserted that the EU delegation would primarily take up the apparel workers’ conditions at apparel factories and the PTA. Those who had received death threats from an intoxicated lawmaker brandishing a weapon at Anuradhapura prison couldn’t tell the TNA delegation the full story as two jail guards sat with the lawmakers throughout their interaction with the prisoners. MP Rasamanickam quoted prisoners as having told them they were ordered out and directed to sit down on ‘L’ shape. Later, the MP repeatedly demanded them to tell him the truth.
MP Rasamanickam alleged that the Prisons Department would have quietly hushed up the incidents if not for the print and electronic media coverage and the social media taking it up. Asked whether he appreciated the appointment of retired High Court judge Sarojini Kusala Weerawardena to inquire into the incidents, MP Rasamanickam said that no such investigation was required if the police moved against the wrongdoer in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The MP pointed out the continuing controversy over the government failure to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. “What happened to the investigation undertaken by retired HC judge Weerawardene into the Mahara prison riots in late Nov. 2020,” MP Ramamanickam asked. That committee also included the Chief Legal Advisor to the Justice Ministry U.R. de Silva, PC, a former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, MP Rasamanickam said, urging the government not to suppress the investigation.
The TNA MP said that by the time they met Anuradhapura prisoners, their statements had been recorded by the Prisons Department and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Well informed sources said that the appointment of a retired HC judge to probe prison incidents had been made on the recommendation of the cabinet. MP Rasamanickam said that the incidents involving the State Minister has set a new record. “Now in addition to the promised police investigation, the Prisons, HRC and retired judge are inquiring into the Ratwatte affair,” MP Rasamanickam said, adding that the much touted pohottuwa slogan ‘One country, one law’ is nothing but a joke.
Ratwatte incidents in the run-up to the 48th Geneva sessions and 76th session of the UNGA ruined the country’s image, the lawmaker said. The TNA spokesman challenged the government to prove its sincerity by taking tangible measures pertaining to prison raids.
The SLPP’s response to the prison raids should be compared with its demand to Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila to resign over his announcement regarding fuel price increase in June. The SLPP found fault with Minister Gammanpila for making an announcement on behalf of the government. But, the same party had no issue over one of its members threatening prisoners in judicial custody.
MP Rasamanickam said that among those held at Anuradhapura prison were ex-LTTE cadres from Batticaloa. However, State Minister Ratwatte was seen in Batticaloa on Saturday, MP Rasamanickam said. How can there be a proper investigation when the prisoners and prison department personnel realize the possibility of Ratwatte returning to the Prisons Management and Prisoner’s Rehabilitation Ministry MP Rasamanickam asked.
The first-time entrant to national politics said the TNA would pursue this issue both in and outside parliament.