Police Media Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana has resigned from the committee appointed by Minister of Justice to investigate the Mahara Prison incident.
In a letter to the Minister Ali Sabri, the DIG stated that as the police spokesman, he would hold media briefings on various issues, including the Mahara prison incident, and that if he is to be a member of the committee, there would be a conflict of interest. He also points out that media briefings cannot be held if he is a member of the committee.
Commenting on this, the Police Media Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said, ‘The Minister of Justice has appointed me to a committee headed by High Court Judge Sarojini Kusala Weerawardena to investigate the Mahara prison incident. I informed him that as the media spokesperson, some kind of problematic situation could arise if I am to take part in this committee. The Minister had put his faith on me but I had to decline his proposal and ask him to appoint someone else instead of me.
‘However, as the Police Media Spokesperson, I have to constantly comment on this to the media. Then it is not ethical to be a member of this committee of inquiry. That’s why I wrote this letter.’
Update : 9.00 AM
The Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said that number of inmates at the Mahara Prison were hospitalized on various occasions from last night (30) to 3.00 am today (01) and the number of injured has increased from 60 to 107 by this morning.
He stated that many inmates were injured in internal conflicts inside the prison and that the inmates had clashed with each other.
Update : 17.30 PM
Police Media Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said that there is a delay in identifying bodies of those who died in the prison incident due to the destruction of documents, prisoner numbers and photographs at the Mahara Prison.
He said that a magisterial inquiry and a post mortem will be held after identifying them and an investigation has been launched into the incident.
At present, the number of injured inmates has risen to 59, with 2 prison guards were injured and eight inmates have died, he said. He further said that the bodies of the eight inmates have been placed at the Ragama Hospital and further investigations are underway.
Mr. Rohana said that crime scene investigators from Gampaha, Kelaniya and Negombo police divisions have already been deployed to obtain scientific evidence regarding the incident inside the prison and that these investigations are being carried out under the supervision of a Senior Superintendent of Police in the Kelaniya Division and a team of 10 persons has been appointed for this purpose.
He said all the warehouses, archives, office, Superintendent’s office, the office of the Assistant Superintendent and the office of the Chief Jailor in the prison had been destroyed and an assessment records of which had been set on fire or damaged are to be taken.
He said that 78 prisoners who had been granted bail but needed to be quarantined are being transferred to the Adalachchena Quarantine Center in the Eastern Province and 187 inmates who have been confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 will be transferred to a special unit at the Colombo Prison.
“A further 200 STF officers and about 400 police officers are currently deployed in these areas under regular patrols to guard the surrounding areas and guard the prison. Although the condition of the prison is now largely under control, maximum security has been put in place to ensure the normal functioning of the prisons,” he said..
Update : 16.55 PM
Two Army buses carrying inmates came out of the prison and the inmates’ relatives were blocking the two buses. They question where the detainees are being taken.
Update : 16.45 PM
Officials of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka told relatives of the detainees that all those seriously injured in the incident at the Mahara Prison had been taken out of the prison. The commission officials who went to the Mahara prison premises to inquire into the situation said this when the inmates’ relatives blocked their vehicle and questioned them as they were leaving the prison premises.
The commission officials said that several people who were slightly injured were taken away a moment ago and now there is no problem.
Update : 13.20 PM
State Minister for Prisons Sudarshani Fernandopulle said that investigations into the Mahara prison incident will be handed over to the CID.
She said in Parliament today (30) that the Mahara prison incident must be investigated and that she believes that there is an invisible hand behind it.
She also stated,
“A very unfortunate incident was reported at the Mahara Prison yesterday. There was an escape attempt in the Mahara prison. Although the officers were able to stop the attempt by shooting, huge property damages were caused inside the prison. There was a fire. The police have deployed the anti riot squad and the special task force to suppress all such activities. Unfortunately, 8 people have died and 50 have been hospitalized in this incident.
“Just as a committee headed by the Secretary was set up, we are ready to have an independent committee.. We also want to find out who is involved in this. It is important for us as the Ministry of Prisons, as a government to find out who is supporting this. We are ready for that.. We will hand over the investigation to the CID because it is very important to find out who is involved in this to avoid such incidents in future.
“However, not only in the Mahara Prison but for the past two or three weeks we have witnessed protests by many inmates from time to time. It started from Boossa. Next the inmates of the old Bogambara prison tried to escape. Officers shot and killed one person and were able to stop that attempt. We saw Welikada, we saw the agitations in Kalutara, then Negombo. This is like a wave. We also saw the Weerawila protest. We saw this as a wave going through every prison. Due to the government’s policy of prioritizing drug raids, a large number of drug traffickers are imprisoned today.
“Prisons Capacity, Detention Capacity , where 11,000 can be held there is now congested with about 32,000 inmates. We have to accept that. Also, as soon as the second wave of Covid-19 started in Minuwangoda, a special program was launched in prisons in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. Particularly all visitors were barred from entering the prisons.
“Also, bringing food and drink from outside was stopped. Bringing detainees to court was minimized. Especially with the help of modern technology, we have made arrangements to hear court cases via Skype. ”
The locals of the area say that even after 12 hours since the incident in Mahara prison, gun shots can be still heard.
They claim that they heard few fired shots at 7.20 am today.
The death toll has risen upto 8 and about 45 people were injured and hospitalized so far. Relatives of several prisoners had gathered there and they were dispersed by the Anti-Riot squad. Ambulances were seen coming out of the prison from time to time.
Prison officials have not yet said which parties are carrying out the shootings and why. Although an attempt was made to contact the Commissioner of Prisons to inquire about this, there was no response from his mobile phone.