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Mahara prison riot: How pills meant for mental patients triggered violence

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* Over 2,400 inmates on their own within complex

* Death toll reachers 11, could rise further

* Clashes among prisoners injure 80

* Doctor under investigation

* Rioters popped more than 21,000 pills

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A high-level investigation into the Mahara Prison riot took an unexpected turn yesterday (1) following the revelation that the prison dispensary had stored over 21,000 tablets prescribed for mental disorders and sleeping pills.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana told a joint media briefing called by the Police Headquarters and the Prisons Department, in Colombo, that they were quite surprised that such a large stock of tablets was maintained. He said it had to be found out who had ordered the stock, how inmates got addicted to such substances, and whether a doctor attached to the Mahara Prison hospital had instigated prisoners to demand PCR tests.

DIG Rohana said that on the directions of the IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as per the instructions received from Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, a 12 -member team from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was inquiring into the riot.

DIG Rohana said those who had been addicted to heroin and cocaine were believed to have used tablets prescribed to mental patients.

Prisons Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake (Administration) said that those who popped the tablets had turned on each other. Quoting officers who had been at the scene last Sunday (29) Ekanayake said they had never witnessed such scenes of violent behaviour among prisoners before.

Responding to a media query, Ekanayake emphasised that the Mahara Prison riot had erupted suddenly whereas they received intelligence warning of possible trouble at some other prisons.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa told Parliament, on Monday, that the prison riot was part of a sinister plan to bring President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government into disrepute.

The media was told that at the time of the riot there had been 2,782 inmates at the Mahara Prisons complex. 585 were convicts and others suspects, DIG Rohana said, alleging that they had initiated Sunday’s violence. What initially started as common demand for all of them to be subjected to RT-PCR tests quickly had led to a riot, the DIG said.

DIG Rohana, who is also the head of the Police Legal Division, said that a section of those rioters had made repeated attempts to escape. Having failed, they had set fire to buildings within the complex. Among those destroyed were the Registry and the offices of top officials in charge of the prison.

The media was told one more inmate admitted to the Ragama Teaching Hospital had succumbed to his injuries yesterday. With that the total number of dead increased to nine, while 105 continued to receive treatment.
Besides, two Prison officers taken hostage and badly assaulted by the rioters were receiving treatment at the same hospital. Several hours after the conclusion of the media briefing Police headquarters said that two more persons had succumbed to their injuries.

At the beginning of the briefing Ekanayake said that of over 2,700 prisoners, approximately 1,600 had gone on the rampage. “Trouble erupted while they were being served food in line with health guidelines. They broke out from where they were held and swiftly gathered close to the main gate. They demanded immediate PCR tests on them.”

Ekanayake said 187 inmates had tested positive by then.

The rioters had attacked the main gate, Ekanayake said. “Officers opened fire having failed to bring the situation under control by shooting rubber bullets.” He said the situation had taken a turn for the worse after inmates took tablets meant for mental patients.

DIG Rohana said that of the 106 who had received injuries, 80 suffered as a result of violence among the prison community. Of the injured, only 26 were believed to have received gunshot injuries, DIG Rohana said.

Commissioner Ekanayake alleged that both the dead and the wounded were those in custody on narcotic charges.

Seventy eight coronavirus positive inmates had since been moved to a quarantine facility at Adalachchenai in the Akkaraipattu police area, DIG Rohana said.

DIG Rohana said those who had been granted bail couldn’t be immediately released as the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) had issued specific instructions on subjecting inmates to two weeks quarantine before release.

DIG Rohana said that following the removal of the injured and the dead to the Ragama hospital, those granted bail and infected inmates had been moved to a special section within the Welikada Prison complex and about 2,400 remained in the Mahara Prison.

Rohana said that among them were a large number of inmates who hadn’t been involved in violence. Acknowledging that the prisons complex wasn’t yet under the control of the jailers, the DIG said that the Police, including the Special Task Force (STF) and the Prison security were making plans to carry out an operation to restore normalcy. He said they would implement a special plan while the police backed by the STF maintained its presence outside the prison.

The police deployment consisted of 400 police and 200 STF personnel.

Both Police and Prisons officers couldn’t confirm whether at least some inmates had managed to escape though they believed such attempts were thwarted.

DIG Rohana said that the rioting inmates had been prevented from seizing the armoury.

The Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence, too, discussed the availability of three varieties of pills totalling 21,000 meant for mental patients at the Prison. Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Gunaratne briefed the CC on the matter and steps taken by authorities to bring the situation under control.

DIG. Rohana told the media that he had requested Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, to leave him out of a special committee headed by retired HC judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena tasked with inquiring into the riot due to conflict of interests as his duties and responsibilities as the Police Spokesperson clashed with the probe undertaken by the committee.



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SL gets Rs 452 mn for saving ill-fated tanker: Rs. 3.4 bn asked for

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By Ifham Nizam and Rathindra Kuruwita

The Marine Enviro-nment Protection Authority (MEPA) yesterday received Rs. 452 million from London for having saved MT New Diamond, a super oil tanker that caught fire in the Sri Lanka’s territorial waters last year.

MEPA General Manager, Dr. P. B. Terney Pradeep Kumara told The Island that Rs. 442 million had come for the services rendered by the Sri Lanka Navy, MEPA and Rs. 10 million by way of a fine imposed on the Ship’s Captain.

However, Sri Lanka has to receive a much larger amount for the damage caused to the marine environment, Dr. Kumara said. Following the incident, Sri Lankan authorities filed charges against the Captain of the ill-fated vessel and made a claim for $2.4 million from the ship’s owners for the firefighting and pollution prevention efforts.

Twenty experts from the Universities of Moratuwa, Ruhuna and Sri Jayewardenepura submitted their recommendations as regards the damage to the environment, to the Attorney General. Based on the report, the Attorney General’s Department had asked for Rs. 3.4 billion (around USD 19 million) as compensation for environmental damage, the Coordinating Officer for the Attorney General, state counsel Nishara Jayaratne said.

Soon they would have discussions with the lawyers of the shipping agent concerned on compensation for environmental damage caused, she said.

Dr. Kumara, who is the former Head of the Department of Oceanography/Marine Geology of the Ruhuna University, said that the incident had caused deaths among marine species due to spillage of some toxic fuel from the vessel.

The MT New Diamond crude oil tanker was transporting 270,000 MT oil from the port of Meena Al Ahmadi in Kuwait to the Port of Paradip in India when a fire broke out in its engine room as the vessel was passing the eastern seas of Sri Lanka on September 3, 2020.

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PSC on gender equality meets for the first time

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State Minister, Fernandopulle flanked by two other PSC members

Special attention on microfinance

The Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to further gender equality, to investigate instances of discrimination against women and to present recommendations to Parliament, focused on microfinance loans that are currently affecting a large number of women in Sri Lanka, when they met for the first time in Parliament recently.

The meeting was chaired by the State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID-19 Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle.

It was also revealed that the Cabinet had approved the re-establishment of an institution to regulate Microfinance loans in Sri Lanka.

The MPs also discussed the role of the Select Committee. They decided that the primary role of the Committee should be to investigate women’s grievances and all forms of discrimination based on gender, including workplace violence.

Another task before this committee is to examine and review laws that can be used to enhance gender equality, encourage relevant ministries and authorities to formulate plans to further gender equality and to allocate financial resources.

The Committee will also try to encourage greater women’s representation in decision-making bodies at the national and provincial levels as well as in government, civil society and the private sector.

MPs Rohini Kaviratne, (Dr.) Harini Amarasuriya, M. Udayakumar, S. Sritharan, Rohana Bandara and the Secretary to the Committee, Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of the Parliament Kushani Rohanadheera were also present at the meeting.

 

 

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A/L Examination from October 04 to 30

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The 2021 GCE Advanced Level examination would be held from October 4 to 30, Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said yesterday addressing the media at his Ministry.

Minister Peiris said the examination was earlier scheduled to be held in August.

The Grade 5 scholarship examination would be held on October 03 and the 2021 GCE Ordinary Level (O/L) examination in the last week of January 2022, the Minister said.

“Usually, schools are open for academic activities for around 200 days a year. But in 2020, schools were open for about 150 days. It was around 130 days in the Western Province. We were not able to fill this gap with online classes due to lack of internet facilities in many parts of the country,” he said.

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