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Mastermind of prison violence identified – Police Spokesman

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* Opposition calls for independent probe

* 61 among rioters COVID-19 positive

* Tense situation in Negombo Prison

By Saman Indrajith, Norman Palihawadana and Nishan S. Priyantha

Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana told The Island yesterday that the Police had identified a senior member of the Mahara Prison Hospital staff as the mastermind of Sunday’s prison riot.

Prisoners clashed with their guards, police anti-riot squads and the STF, on Sunday, for several hours and the clashes left eight inmates dead and more than 70 others injured. The injured were removed to the Ragama Teaching Hospital. Among them were two prison officers.

DIG Rohana said the Police believed the prison clashes were preplanned, and the prison record room had been set on fire. A new building under construction as part of the prison expansion project had also been destroyed by the rioters, DIG Rohana said.

The Mahara Prison had more than 2,700 inmates at the time of the clashes. Out of them, 183 had tested positive for COVID-19, he said. They had been removed to a special section of the Colombo Remand Prison, the Police Spokesman added.

Although the Police told the media that the situation had been brought under control in the prison, injured inmates being removed to hospital , shouted, through the windows of speeding ambulances, that inmates were still being beaten.

Our photographers stationed near the prison said they had sighted the same ambulance making several trips, within a matter of hours, between the Mahara Prison and the Ragama Teaching Hospital.

The COVID-19 patients among the prisoners were taken to treatment centres, while the family members and friends of inmates were waiting outside the prison, making inquiries from the police.

Four prisoners of the Negombo Prison, yesterday, staged a rooftop protest, demanding that cases against them be expedited and they be granted bail. The Negombo Police arrested the four men and another person who had assisted them.

Meanwhile, Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle told Parliament yesterday that there had been an invisible hand behind Sunday’s prison riots.

Minister Dr. Fernandopulle said the incident had occurred when prison officers, attempted to foil an escape attempt following a clash between the remandees and the convicts in the Mahara Prison. She said some inmates had set prison properties on fire.

The Prison officers had been able to prevent the escape attempt by opening fire, but to quell the riots they had called in the police anti-riot squads and the STF.

“It was so unfortunate that eight inmates were killed and around 50 others injured; the injured prisoners are receiving treatment at the Colombo North Teaching hospital,” Minister Dr Fernandopulle said.

She said that there had been a wave of protests and incidents of unrest in prisons all over the country during recent months. “First the agitations started at the Boossa Prison. There were similar incidents at the Welikada, Kalutara, Weerawila, and the Negombo prisons. A group of prisoners tried to escape from the Bogambara Prison recently but the jailers were able to prevent them by opening fire.” One escapee had been killed and several others injured, she said.

The Minister said that the government was convinced that there had been an invisible hand behind the Mahara Prison incident. She said so in response to a statement made by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who said that the Opposition was not happy with the incidents being investigated by a committee, headed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation. “We do not think that the truth could be got at through such an investigation. We need an impartial investigation,” the Opposition Leader said.

Minister Fernandopulle: We, too, need to know the truth and how exactly this happened. We have decided to call in the CID to conduct investigations. There will be some other probes as well.

Opposition Leader: There was a COVID-19 cluster consisting of 183 infections in the Mahara Prison. How could such a cluster come up so suddenly there? What actions have you taken to prevent the spread of the virus in prisons?

The State Minister said that there were 1,099 COVID-19 infected inmates in prisons all over the country as of yesterday. “We have temporarily banned visitors. Court proceedings take place via Skype. Following recent anti-narcotic raids the number of inmates has increased. In prisons which can accommodate only 11,000 there are now 32,000 at present,” she said, adding that suspected COVID-19 cases were placed under quarantine for 14 days at the Bogambara Prison, in Kandy and Pallansena, Galella, and Kandakadu quarantine centres.

Measures had been taken to release on bail remand prisoners, a majority of whom were drug addicts arrested with less than two grams of narcotics each, and nearly 600 prisoners convicted of minor offences had been granted a presidential pardon, Dr. Fernandopulle said.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that he had asked the government a month back not to hold COVID-19 infected inmates in the Bogambara Prison, but it had not listened to him.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena: You have raised that matter several times in the House. This cannot be allowed.

Kandy District SJB MP Velu Kumar: The Kandy town is in danger because the government has transferred inmates infected with COVID-19 to the Bogambara Prison.



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Unprovoked attacks: AG asked to consider taking legal action against MR, others under ICCPR

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… arrest those named in court proceedings

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association intends to move the Fort Magistrate’s court against the inordinate delay on the part of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to arrest those who had been named in the ongoing court proceedings as suspects.

The Fort Magistrate’s Court has issued a travel ban on ex-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanna, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Thennakoon.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded in or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

Alleging that the CID probe was progressing at a snail’s pace, Attorney-at-Law J. Tenny Fernando, Convenor has, in a letter dated 15 May, requested Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, to expedite the process. The copies of the lawyer’s letter have been forwarded to IGP C. D. Wickremaratne, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Justice Rohini Marasinghe, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The Association has asked the AG whether the delay in taking those who had influenced the unprovoked attacks on protesting public into custody was because of their political status, political intervention hampering investigations or any other reason.

The association’s President and Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera told The Island that the public was seriously concerned about the double-standards in the CID’s response to the unprovoked attacks obviously carried out at the behest of those at the helm of Temple Trees and retaliatory violence.

Referring to the association’s letter to the AG, lawyer Perera said that the police headquarters over the weekend declared the arrest of over 200 persons in connection with retaliatory attacks whereas none of those whose passports were impounded were taken. Lawyer Perera noted that Police Spokesman and Attorney-at-Law SSP Nihal Thalduwa on Sunday (15) announced the arrest of a 49-year-old employee of Moratuwa Municipal Council in connection with the attacks on protest sites. SSP Thalduwa said that the CID took him into custody at Moratuwella, Moratuwa.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association has requested the AG to instruct the CID to take those who had been named in the court proceedings into custody without delay.

The IGP directed the CID to inquire into the incidents following a missive from the AG, who drew attention of the Police Chief to the domestic and international ramifications of the May 09 mayhem.

The association has queried whether the AG could file charges against some of those politicians who had allegedly instigated attacks in terms of Section 03 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No 56 of 2007.

Convenor Fernando warned the AG that the integrity of his Office is in question against the backdrop of both the legal fraternity and the citizenry relentlessly demanding expeditious handling of the Temple Trees case.

The association has emphasised that the ongoing investigations are under the purview of the AG in terms of Section 393 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act No 15 of 1979. Referring to the extensive coverage of the incidents in the mainstream as well as the social media, the association has questioned the honesty and the efficiency of the CID.

Appreciating the swift action taken by the AG’s Department in respect of principal suspects to secure a travel ban, the association has reminded the President’s Counsel Rajaratnam that the outfit is about to file action against the same lot and some additional suspects when the AG intervened.

Lawyer Perera said that if not for the AG initiating action, the association would have done the needful. The entire world was watching how the government handled this situation, he said, adding that it would be the responsibility of the AG to ensure justice.

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PM tells bitter truth, proposes how to overcome crisis

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With the country caught in a fiscal crisis, where it is unable to find dollars even to buy lifesaving drugs, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday declared some urgent steps that he proposed to take like privatising the money draining national carrier SriLankan Airlines.

The loss suffered by SriLankan for the year 2020-2021 alone amounted to SLR 45 billion. By 31 March 2021, the total loss was at 372 billion. “Even if we privatise Sri Lankan Airlines, this is a loss that we must bear. You must be aware that this is a loss that must be borne even by the poor people of this country who have never stepped on an airplane”, he said.

In his address to the nation, Premier Wickremesinghe said

the coming few months will be the most difficult times that Sri Lankans have experienced in their lives.

He said Sri Lankan economy is in an extremely precarious state and that the budget deficit for 2022 will be 2.4 trillion Sri Lankan Rupees.

“At present, the Sri Lankan economy is extremely precarious. Although the former government’s budget projected a revenue of SLR 2.3 trillion, SLR 1.6 trillion is the realistic projection of this year’s revenue,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said that the estimated government expenditure for 2022 is SLR 3.3 trillion. However, due to the increase in interest rates and additional expenditure of the former government, the total government expenditure is SLR 4 trillion.

He said that the government needs to find 75 million U.S Dollars in the next few days to provide the basic necessities for the people.

“At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day. Due to the diesel shipment that arrived yesterday, the diesel lack of diesel will be resolved to some extent. Two more diesel shipments are due to arrive on the 18th May and 1st June. In addition, two petrol shipments are expected on 18th and 29th May,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka produced 25% of electricity through fossil fuels.

Thus, if the country is not able to purchase adequate amounts of diesel soon, there is a possibility that the daily power outages will increase to 15 hours a day.

He added that the government incurs a loss of 84.38 rupees per liter of 92 octane petrol, 71.19 rupees per liter of 95 octane petrol, 131.55 rupees per liter of diesel, 136.31 rupees per liter of super diesel, and 294.50 rupees per liter of kerosene oil.

“The Petroleum Corporation can no longer bear this loss. Similarly, although the Electricity Board charges SLR 17 per unit of electricity the cost of production is at around SLR 48 amounting to a loss of about SLR 30 per unit. This is also a serious problem,” he said.

Given below is the speech in full: “Last Thursday, I accepted office as the Prime Minister. I did not request this position. In face of the challenging situation facing the country, the President invited me to take up this position. I assumed this duty not only as a political leader, but also as national leader who has benefited from free education at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo.

“At present, the Sri Lankan economy is extremely precarious. Although the former government’s budget projected a revenue of SLR 2.3 trillion, SLR 1.6 trillion is the realistic projection of this year’s revenue.

“The estimated government expenditure for this year is SLR 3.3 trillion. However, due to the increase in interest rates and additional expenditure of the former government, the total government expenditure is SLR 4 trillion. The budget deficit for the year is SLR 2.4 trillion. This amount equals 13% of the GDP.

“The approved debt ceiling is SLR 3200 billion. By the second week of May, we had spent 1950 billion. Therefore, the remainder is SLR 1250 billion. Yesterday, a cabinet decision was made to present a proposal to parliament to increase the approved limit for issuing treasury bills from 3000 billion to 4000 billion.

“In November 2019, our foreign exchange reserves were at USD 7.5 billion. However, today, it is a challenge for the treasury to find USD 1 million. The Ministry of finance is finding it difficult to raise USD 5 million required to import gas.

“Amidst all these issues we are faced with several grave concerns. To ease the queues, we must obtain approximately USD 75 million within the next couple of days. At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day. Due to the diesel shipment that arrived yesterday, the diesel lack of diesel will be resolved to some extent. Under the Indian credit line, two more diesel shipments are due to arrive on the 18th May and 1st June. In addition, two petrol shipments are expected on 18th and 29th May. For over 40 days 3 ships with crude oil and furnace oil have been anchored within the maritime zone of Sri Lanka. We are working to obtain dollars in the open market to pay for these shipments.

“A quarter of electricity is generated through oil. Therefore, there is a possibility that the daily power outages will increase to 15 hours a day. However, we have already obtained money to avert this crisis. We must also immediately obtain USD 20 million to provide gas to consumers. The situation of kerosene and furnace oil is even more urgent. At present, the Central Bank, local state and private banks, and foreign banks functioning in Sri Lanka are all facing a dollar shortage. As you are already aware, we possess a very low amount of US dollars. Nevertheless, we succeeded in bringing in a diesel shipment yesterday despite these adverse circumstances with Indian assistance. Therefore, you can obtain that diesel from today onwards. We will also work towards making a payment for the gas shipment that arrived on Tuesday. Therefore, you will have some respite from the gas shortage.

“Another grave concern is the lack of medicine. There is a severe shortage of a number of medicines including medicine required for heart disease as well as surgical equipment. Payments have not been made for four months to suppliers of medicine, medical equipment, and food for patients. The payment owed to them amounts to SLR 34 billion. In addition, payments have not been made for four months for medicine imported by the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation. As a result, pharmaceutical companies are taking steps to blacklist the SPC. Unfortunately, our Medical Supplies Division is unable to provide even two critical items of the 14 essential medicines that we currently need. These two are a medicine used in treating heart disease and the anti-rabies vaccine. The latter has no alternative treatment.

“We have planned to present a new alternative budget to the development budget proposed for 2022. Intend to present it as a concessionary budget.

“I further propose to privatise Sri Lankan Airlines which is incurring extensive losses. The loss for the year 2020-2021 alone amounts to SLR 45 billion. By 31st March 2021, the total loss was at 372 billion. Even if we privatise Sri Lankan Airlines, this is a loss that we must bear. You must be aware that this is a loss that must be borne even by the poor people of this country who have never stepped on an airplane.

“In the short term we will have to face an even more difficult time period. There is a possibility that inflation will increase further.

“At present, the government incurs a loss of SLR 84.38 per liter of 92 octane petrol, 71.19 per liter of 95 octane petrol, 131.55 per liter of diesel, 136.31 per liter of super diesel, and 294.50 per liter of kerosene oil. The Petroleum Corporation can no longer bear this loss. Similarly, although the Electricity Board charges SLR 17 per unit of electricity the cost of production is at around SLR 48 amounting to a loss of about SLR 30 per unit. This is also a serious problem.

“Against my own wishes, I am compelled to permit printing money in order to pay state-sector employees and to pay for essential goods and services. However, we must remember that printing money leads to the depreciation of the rupee. Under the current circumstances, even the Petroleum Corporation and the Electricity Board are unable to obtain rupees.

“The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives. We must prepare ourselves to make some sacrifices and face the challenges of this period.

“I have no desire to hide the truth and to lie to the public. Although these facts are unpleasant and terrifying, this is the true situation. For a short period, our future will be even more difficult than the tough times that we have passed. We will face considerable challenges and adversity. However, this period will not be long. In the coming months, our foreign allies will assist us. They have already pledged their support. Therefore, we will have to patiently bear the next couple of months. However, we can overcome this situation. Doing so will require taking a new path.

“I thank the opposition leader and the leaders of the political parties who replied to the letters that I sent them informing them of the current situation.

“We must immediately establish a national assembly or political body with the participation of all political parties to find solutions for the present crisis. This will enable us to discuss with all parties and to arrive at decisions for short-, medium-, and long-term action plans that will enable us to rebuild our nation within a specified time frame.

“We will build a nation without queues for kerosene, gas, and fuel; a nation free of power outages, a nation with plentiful resources where agriculture can freely flourish; a nation where the future of the youth is secure; a nation where people’s labour need not be wasted in queues and in struggles; a nation where everyone can lead their lives freely with three square meals a day.

“I am undertaking a dangerous challenge. In the Caucasian Chalk Circle, Grusha crossed the broken rope bridge carrying a child that was not her own. This is an even more difficult undertaking. The precipice is deep and its bottom cannot be seen. The bridge is made of thin glass and there is no handrail. I am wearing shoes with sharp nails that cannot be removed. My task is to safely take the child to the other side. I am accepting this challenge for our nation. My goal and dedication is not to save an individual, a family, or a party. My objective is to save all the people of this country and the future of our younger generation. I will undertake this task willingly risking my life if needed and will overcome the challenges facing us. I ask you to extend your support to me in this endeavour.I will fulfill my duty towards our nation.”

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Parliament security beefed up in view of planned IUSF protest

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By Norman Palihawadane

Security for Parliament and surrounding areas has been beefed up in view of Inter University Students’ Federation-led agitations against the government and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

During a special meeting, headed by Sergeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando, with security experts and other stakeholders from Parliament, it was decided to enhance security during the next sitting week of parliament scheduled to start at 10 am today.

In addition the number of Navy boat patrolling in the adjacent Diyawanna Lake has been increased, parliament sources said.

The scope of intelligence observances and surveillance would be increased, sources said, adding that police and army men would be deployed in the surrounding areas of parliament premises.

Yesterday’s meeting also conveyed instructions issued by Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne during his visit to the Parliament complex on Sunday.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena told The Island that the responsibility of providing security to the MPs had been handed over to the Police and the Army.

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