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Death of Wishma at detention cell in Japan shrouded in mystery



Protesters in Nagoya actively demonstrated their anger over the death

The tragic death of a Sri Lankan girl, Wishma Rathnayake in a detention camp in Nagoya, Japan, despite her repeated calls for hospitalization and medication, has received publicity in the New York Times of May 18. This publicity has stirred up a hornet’s nest across the globe. The public agitation over the mysterious manner in which she laid down her life does not appear to have generated the wrath and the condemnation in Sri Lanka, probably due to the Covid-19 epidemic and prolonged lockdowns.

Initially, it is reported that she was caught up with high fever and subsequently her face and limbs turned numb and her health deteriorated to such an extent where she could consume just a little bit of water administered with sugar and a slice of bread. Though she begged for hospitalization for treatment, all her efforts fell on deaf years on the immigrant authorities and they suspected that she was faking her illness to avoid deportation. Finally, poor Wathsala, 33, died in her cell alone without any medication or hospitalization on 06 March. She was forced to make the supreme sacrifice for overstaying her visa.

With this unfortunate death, the Japan’s immigration system has been subjected to ridiculous criticism in that the critics say that she became a victim as a result of an opaque and capricious bureaucracy, which provided unfettered powers for the immigration authorities to deal with over-stayed foreigners with a iron fist. The inhuman treatment meted out to Wishma ignoring all the accepted norms of humanity even prisoners would not receive, has had a huge dent in its governance. Japan appears to be in a position like that of cat who defecated on a rock, unable to respond to a host of irrefutable issues.

The Japanese bureaucrats did not have a modicum of decency to provide basic medical facilities at her death bed. It may be true that she overstayed in Japan but the manner in which she was inhumanly treated smacks of a motive to deter visa overstayers. The authority’s blunt refusal to ignore the piteous appeals for medication from a patient who has been ailing for some time in a detention camp certainly deserve outright condemnation by the civil society and women organizations who cry at the drop of a hat in main streets.

It is reported that the tragedy has resulted in a sudden provocation in Japan, a country with a long history of hostility toward immigration. The enormous pressure exerted and mounted by the Asians living in Japan over the death of this Sri Lankan has forced the authorities to re-visit their immigration and detention strategy which demands a radical change in keeping with human values and dignity.

The Japanese immigrations authorities have a dubious and notorious track record over the deaths of refugees in their custody. It is reported that 24 detainees have died since 1997 according to the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees. In the most recent past, an Indonesian and a Nigerian have died as a result of the inhuman treatment. None of those cases have inspired the public anger, outrage and momentum late Wishma received because the whole world knew the excruciating life she suffered at the hands of the immigration authorities. By taking all the facts and circumstantial evidence as a whole, it would be safer to assume that this death is a homicide which warrants criminal charges against the immigration authorities.

Though the detention centre is reported to have a medical facility, it is deemed to be more or less a village dispensary with limited medical facilities and drugs, like vitamins and painkillers. At the last stage, the victim was in a state of anxiety and depression and her prolonged ailment demanded immediate hospitalization. A doctor who is reported to have examined her has recommended immediate hospitalization, the authorities have taken a defence on the ground that no such recommendation for hospitalization has been made thus creating more controversy.

It would be clearly seen that the immigration authorities are in the process of fabricating all cock-and-bull stories for their defence. According to the interim report on the victim’s death released by the immigration authorities, the medical history of the patient is limited to minute details such as blood pressure, oxygen saturation readings and the drugs administered for her headaches or chest pain and every bite of food she rejected. The doctor’s recommendation for the hospitalization of the patient from the medical file is rather intriguing, which discloses all the hallmarks of a questionable foul-play.

How effective is the Sri Lankan foreign missions in dealing with the Sri Lankans domiciled in those countries is the question that begs answers? According to the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Sri Lankan Embassy, in Japan, it appears to have details of the 26 detainees under the Japanese Immigration Detention Centres. It is rather doubtful whether they have in their possessions of the health records. Had they possessed such records, they could have easily pursued such records and built an interaction with the immigration authorities. I have my serous doubts whether the Sri Lankan Embassy had taken up the cudgels of the victim with a view to saving her precious life. Now that the final report of the death of the victim is expected to be released in July, it has come to a situation where we have to wait for the report with anguish and desperation to ascertain the cause of the death.

Besides, readers would recall that the present Labour Minister on his assumption of duties had the gumption to recall the Labour Officers attached to the foreign embassies on the ground of pecuniary reasons. These Labour Officers’ main task was to look into the welfare and grievances of the Sri Lankans irrespective of the fact whether they are over-stayed detainees or not. If we had not recalled them, the precious life of this victim could have been easily saved without any embarrassment to the government. Part of the blame should go to the Labour Minister for lack of foresight.

I am unable to comprehend why the Foreign Ministry so far has failed to summon the Japanese Ambassador and convey its formal condemnation over the manner in which the aforesaid Sri Lankan was inhumanly treated. It has so failed to tell the nation the factual reasons behind the death of this victim and also how it intends consoling the bereaved family.


Athula Ranasinghe

Colombo 5

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An appeal to President



This is to request President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to allow burial of COVID -19 infected corpses of Muslims in the burial ground close to the residence of the diseased instead of sending them to Otamaavadi. It goes without saying that all Health protocols and regulations will have to be stringently adhered to for the burial at the existing burial grounds.

I hope that this request will be granted as the experts in Virology have confirmed that there is no ground water contamination with the burial of those dying of Covid-19.

This will reduce considerably logistic issues and cost to both the State and the family members of the deceased and at the same time expedite burial.

Mohamed Zahran


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Talk Shows



COVID-19 has opened up the doors for an umpteen number of “talk shows”: of various types, conveying different TV messages to our people on how to cope with the many daily problems faced by them, including the now prevailing pandemic.

At a time the public are very effectively advised by the relevant health authorities delegated with that task, and highly competent to educate the masses how to cope with this pandemic, what purpose these “shows” give our people hungry for news is left for anyone to guess.

Recently. I happened to watch two such talk shows telecast one after the other, where the same person was interviewed by two different interviewers on the same subject, as if competing with each other. More amusing was the pose shown to the camera by one of the interviewers at the end of the show, as if asking the viewers “how do you like my ‘show’?

These Talk Shows, similar to the virus, seem to be able to develop variants with time to cover other fields, too, such as economy, Port City, reforestation and lesser known local small industry entrepreneurs, diplomats and academics; and how to make Colombo a green city by a programme to plant thousands of trees to get off the ground immediately. Everyone knows that what is being planted are not trees but young plants, only a few weeks old, and no one knows when they will ever grow into a tree as imagined, if they survive the test of time and we are lucky to live till then. But repeating these shows as happening at the moment is a waste of time.

What I appreciated most in one special case was the liberal use of highly scientific jargon, even if the person to my imagination never studied science and more so the use of good English that was encouraging. But what worried me most was if someone else asked why these programmes are not conducted in Tamil?

Finally, the Telecom beats them all, where every call taken precedes a lengthy message on prevention of the Coronavirus pandemic, sometimes repeated twice. It all ends with the message only. But not the call.



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Protecting Sri Lanka’s maritime rights



Your editorial, Poaching: Grasp the nettle (The Island of 09 June), provides a good analysis of the issue concerning the poaching of fishery resources in Sri Lanka waters, particularly in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.

The maritime boundary between Sri Lanka and India was settled by two agreements entered into by the two countries in 1974 and 1976. Accordingly, fishing vessels and fishers of the two countries were debarred from fishing in the waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone of each other.

Subsequently, the Maritimes Zones Law, No. 22 of 1976 was enacted with provisions for the President to declare the limits of the agreed maritime boundary between the two countries, and different maritime zones of Sri Lanka, such as the historic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, pollution prevention zone and the continental shelf. This law prohibits unauthorised fishing in any of the maritime zones of Sri Lanka by any foreign vessel. The President did declare the maritime zones of Sri Lanka by a proclamation published in the Gazette 248/1 of 15-01-1977. Since then unauthorized fishing by Indian vessels on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar became illegal.

However, part of the agreement relating to fishing has never been honoured by India, whose fishers continued to fish on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay, and on the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar, which jointly form the historic waters of Sri Lanka. According to the Presidential Proclamation, waters on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay form part of the internal waters of Sri Lanka while those on the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar form part of the territorial sea (provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 relating to internal waters and territorial sea do not contradict such declarations provided they are made on the provisions of the customary international law). On the other hand, although prior to signing of the Maritime Boundary Agreement of 1976, Sri Lankan fishing vessels were fishing in the Wadge Bank, which fell in the EEZ of India since the Agreement came into effect, no Sri Lankan vessels has been found fishing in that area.

At present, three days a week more than 1,000 Indian trawlers fish on the Sri Lanka side of the maritime boundary in violation of the law relating to fisheries in Sri Lanka. Any Sri Lankan vessel, irrespective of the part of Sri Lanka where it is fishing, should have been registered as a fishing vessel of Sri Lanka and obtained a fishing licence. Further, no such vessel is allowed to engage in mechanised bottom trawling.

There have been many discussions between the two countries since the 1990s to stop this illegal practice by Indian trawlers. Such discussions only end up with agreed minutes, but no solution. Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act, No 59 of 1979 provides for a High Court Judge to impose a penalty of a fine of Rs. 1.5 million on any foreign vessels engaged in unauthorised fishing in Sri Lanka waters. However, this provision was never used against any Indian trawler caught in Sri Lanka waters with unauthorised fishing, owing to practical difficulties. Subsequently, in 2017, the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Amendment) Act, No. 11 was enacted to impose a two-year jail term or a fine of at least Rs. 50,000 with a view to controlling this problem. Although the Sri Lanka Navy takes into custody Indian trawlers and hands them over with fishers to Fisheries authorities, the moment they get a letter from the Indian High Commission asking for their release, all are released. In this context, sinking unusable buses in the sea in this area appears to be a practical solution to the problem. For that also India has expressed objections. Sri Lanka has sovereign rights to take any decision in regard to its internal waters, and territorial sea (subject to the right of innocent passage of any foreign vessel) and historic waters (these form part of either internal waters or the territorial sea). Therefore, it is not necessary to stop this activity, just because India is objecting.

As regards the claim by India that Sri Lankan vessels also engage in unauthorised fishing in India waters, it should be noted that they are taken into custody rarely in very small numbers; that, too, mostly in the Indian EEZ, while they are returning after fishing in the Arabian sea. Any vessel has the right to navigation in the EEZ of any country. Even when innocent Sri Lankan fishers happen to be caught by the Indian authorities, they are made to suffer in Indian jails.

A few years earlier also, you expressed concern on this issue by an editorial, Saying it with fish, when Sri Lanka released all Indian fishers who were in jail in Sri Lanka pending trials, as a gesture of thanks for India’s vote at the UN in favour of Sri Lanka. Thank you for your concerns.



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