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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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Nightlife is essential without hindrance to other tourists, residents and businesses – Diana Gamage

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Minister of State for Tourism  Diana Gamage acknowledged that events that emanated noise should be conducted within a soundproof environment without causing any inconvenience or disturbance to other tourists who are here to relax, residents of the area and other businesses inasmuch its necessity to boost the economy by generating revenue.

She made this comment speaking at a press conference themed ‘Collective path to a stable country’ at the Presidential Media Centre today (22),

As debates continue regarding the regulation of nightlife, she urged stakeholders to consider the broader economic implications and the vital role that nightlife plays in driving economic activity and sustaining national finances. She further emphasized the importance of providing entertainment options to tourists, particularly in beach areas, which are major attractions for visitors. According to her, nightlife plays a crucial role in catering to the needs of tourists, not only in beach areas but also in urban centres like Colombo. The Minister noted that current regulations often restrict entertainment options, citing examples such as early last orders in hotels and restaurants, which may not align with the preferences of international tourists.

Drawing attention to the diverse origins of tourists, including those from the UK, France, and Germany, the State Minister Diana Gamage emphasized the need for flexibility in entertainment hours to accommodate varying cultural norms and preferences.

As discussions on tourism regulations continue, stakeholders are encouraged to consider the perspectives of tourists and the potential economic benefits of promoting a vibrant nightlife scene. The Minister’s remarks underscore the importance of striking a balance between regulation and the provision of entertainment options to ensure a memorable and enjoyable experience for visitors to Sri Lanka.

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All vocational training institutes in Sri Lanka should be consolidated into a single vocational college – President

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe during an observation tour at the Ratmalana Lalith Athulathmudali Vocational Training Centre, this morning (22) , outlined plans to consolidate all vocational training institutes in Sri Lanka into a single vocational college, offering contemporary subject-related courses.

He said that the restructuring of vocational education was  essential to align with the demands of the modern world, ensuring that the youth of the country are equipped to excel in the competitive global job market.

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Opposition threatens to move no-faith motion against Speaker over OSB

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Speaker Abeywardena

By Saman Indrajith

Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premnadasa told Parliament yesterday that the Online Safety Bill had been passed in violation of the law and unless remedial action was taken, a no-faith motion would be brought against Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Premadasa said that Article 123(4) of the Constitution says, “Where any Bill, or the provision of any Bill, has been determined, or is deemed to have been determined, to be inconsistent with the Constitution, such Bill or such provision shall not be passed except in the manner stated in the determination of the Supreme Court.”

Premadasa said: “It is illegal to pass a Bill without adhering to this constitutional provision. There were nine instances where the government overlooked the Supreme Court determination on the Bill. The Speaker allowed that to happen despite our protests. The Justice Minister, too, has admitted that there are flaws in the Act. How could that happen? Rectify them immediately, or we will bring a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.”

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that even if the Supreme Court determined that a section or clause of a draft Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution, a Bill could be passed by Parliament. It could be done with either a two-thirds majority or two-thirds majority plus people’s approval from a referendum. A case cannot be filed against the way the Speaker or an MP behaved in this House as they have immunity. Former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, too, has given a ruling on this issue and we still consider it as a precedent to be upheld. With regard to the Online Safety Bill, the Attorney General has instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to incorporate some amendments as per the Supreme Court determination and to bring other recommended amendments in the form of a separate Amendment Bill. I was not a party to that discussion. This Amendment Bill was presented to the Cabinet and approval was granted and now is at the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Thereafter, it would be referred to the Cabinet again and with that approval we can have it here in this House for consideration,” the Minister said.

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