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Autopsies prove Minister, Prisons and Police wrong

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Clashes among Mahara prisoners caused deaths?

*SJB points out AG faulted IGP over Mahara riot
 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Investigations into the Mahara prison riot that claimed the lives of 11 inmates and wounded over 100 recently have taken a new turn with eight post mortems conducted so far revealing that all of them died of gunshot injuries.

In the run-up post-mortems conducted by a five-member team comprising four consultant judicial medical officers and a ballistic expert from the Government Analyst’s Department, both police headquarters and the Office of the Commissioner General of Prisons repeatedly alleged that the deaths were due to fierce clashes among remanded suspects and convicted prisoners.

Clashes erupted following protests launched by inmates demanding immediate measures to thwart the spread of the corona epidemic in the Mahara prison. So far, over 3,000 positive cases have been reported from prisons.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (25) confirmed that autopsies revealed all eight bodies bore marks of gunshot injuries. Asked how many statements had been recorded by the police so far in connection with Mahara riots, DIG Rohana, who is also the senior officer in charge of the Police Legal Division, said wounded inmates were among 726 questioned by Thursday (24).

At the time of the Mahara prison riot, approximately 2,800 persons, including 600 convicted were held in the overcrowded facility.

Prisons Management and Prisons Rehabilitation Minister Lohan Ratwatte, having visited devastated Mahara prison told Parliament on Dec 3 that none of those killed during the riot had suffered gunshot injuries.

The Attorney General’s Department made an application at the Wattala Magistrate’s Court for the appointment of a panel of experts to conduct the post-mortem on Mahara victims when the family members and rights activists called upon the government not to cremate them without a post-mortem.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), too, intervened in the matter. The HRCSL instructed the Ragama Hospital to retain bodies till the autopsies were conducted. Three autopsies have yet to be conducted.

At the onset of the investigation, the focus was on claims by the Police headquarters and the Prisons Department that the rioters had been under the influence of drugs. Both Departments said the Prison Dispensary had stored over 21,000 tablets prescribed for mental disorders, and sleeping pills.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahman yesterday (25) told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to how all autopsies conducted so far had proved inmates died due to gunshot injuries.

At the time of the riots, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle was in charge of prisons. Soon after the Mahara violence, Kandy District lawmaker Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Fernandopulle.

MP Rahman said they were awaiting the autopsies of the remaining three bodies and that in spite of clear evidence of fatal shootings, both Police Headquarters and Prisons Department continued to insist that the deaths had been caused by clashes among remand prisoners.

MP Rahman pointed out that Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, had blamed IGP C. D. Wickremaratne for congestion in prisons while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faulted the Government Analyst, the AG and the police for the prison crisis.

MP Rahman said that State Minister Ratwatte should reveal the person who assured him that none of the Mahara deaths had been caused by gunshots.

Magisterial inquiry in respect of Mahara killings resumes at the Wattala Magistrate court on Wednesday (Dec 30).

Lawmaker Rahman said that the government couldn’t turn a blind eye to the report submitted by a five-member committee headed by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena that justified the inmates’ grievances. The SJB spokesperson asked whether the government had made a deliberate bid to deceive Parliament and the people. Some government members went to the extent of complaining of a conspiracy to discredit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government by engineering Mahara riot.

Rahman said that the ongoing investigation should clarify AG’s statement as regards the IGP’s culpability and added that he had never heard AG making such an allegation against a serving Police Chief.

The SJB MP noted that the accusation was made in the presence of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC and Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.

Rahman asked the government who would accept responsibility for the Mahara killings.

The AG alleged that the Mahara incident could have been avoided if the IGP had carried out instructions the former had issued in April this year. MP Rahman said that the government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for Mahara killings. He said all the victims had tested corona positive.

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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