On 16th January 2019,leaked video footage was released to the media, showing brutal and systematic assault on detainees at the Angunakolapalessa prison in the Southern Province in Sri Lanka. The attack was carried out mostly by uniformed prison staff, while the Superintendent of the Prison was also alleged to have participated and directed the assault.
The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP), which had received the leaked video footage and released it to the media, had made complaints to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Police, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and also to the United Nations.
Meanwhile, Justice & Prison Reform Minister Thalatha Athukorale, was quoted in the media as condemning the attackand saying that “iron bars, three-and-a-half feet long, were used to assault an inmate inside a ward.that “iron bars, three-and-a-half feet long, were used to assault an inmate inside a ward” She had appointed two committees to investigate the incident. However, the CPRP has condemned the minister for attempting for not appointing independent persons to probe the incident, trying to suppress the incident to protect the wrongdoers and persecute those who leaked the video footage.
The Minister has claimed that information on the incident only came to light after the release of the video, however the Human Rights Commission, through a public statement , has confirmed that it had been made aware of the incident prior to the release of the video and that it had already visited the prison, obtained statements from prisoners, requested the Superintendent of the Prison to produce those who allege having been assaulted to be examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) and provide medical assistance to inmates who required such assistance. The Commission also undertook follow up visits and summoned the Commissioner-General of Prisons and the Superintendent of Angunakolapalessa Prison for inquiries.
As of 29th January 2018, no information is available about the results of the investigation by the Commission or the two committees appointed by the Minister.
And detainees who were attacked remain under control and mercy of the attackers with no means of escaping their wrath.
Sri Lanka has ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment 25 years ago and enacted a domestic law ‘Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No. 22 of 1994 (Torture Act)’.
But Sri Lankan prisons are notorious for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as corruption, with female detainees being attacked for demanding sanitary pads late last year. In 2012, 27 inmates were massacred and prior to this, there have been several massacres inside the prison, with total impunity for perpetrators.
We call for the:
- Immediate suspension of the Superintendent and all those prison department staff who were on duty at the time and day of the incident
- Guarantees of safety and non-reprisals to all detainees, especially those who have given statements and may do so in future
iii. Guarantees of safety and non-reprisals other eyewitnesses and those who leaked the video footage and those publicizing it
- Preservation of all relevant evidence, in particular, in relation to the video footage in a manner that they could be used for prosecutions
- Involvement of independent persons with professional expertise and experience to assist in the investigations
- Expediting the investigations and publications of results by the Human Rights Commission, Department of Prisons and Ministry of Justice
vii. Expediting the investigations by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police and quick prosecution and conviction of perpetrators under the Torture Act
viii. Increased and regular independent monitoring and reporting on the conditions inside prisons in Sri Lanka
For additional information: Mr. Senaka Perera, Attorney-at-Law, Chairman, Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) firstname.lastname@example.org / +94-77-2817164