The Public Security Ministry is ready to take action against the former Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte, who resigned yesterday (15) in connection with recent incidents that took place at the Anuradhapura and Welikada Prisons involving him if only a complaint is made.
Public Security Minister, Rear Admiral (Retd.) Sarath Weerasekera said that the Ministry, under the purview of which the Police Department comes, would be able to take action against the use of weapons inside Prison complexes.
“The gun he has used, I think, is a licensed firearm. However, if somebody makes a complaint related to these incidents, we might be able to take action against it according to the law.”
Earlier in the day, a statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD) said that Ratwatte has accepted responsibility for the incidents involving him at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons premises and that he had therefore decided to resign from his post as the Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister.
He has informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of this decision and the President has accepted his resignation, the PMD said.
However, according to Government sources, Ratwatte has only resigned from the post of the Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister.
The sources said that he will continue to serve as the Gem and Jewellery Related Industries State Minister. This was the portfolio he was initially assigned prior to additionally being given the Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister post.
Ratwatte’s resignation comes in the wake of forcibly entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons premises, bearing a firearm, and under the influence of liquor.
According to sources on 6 September, an inebriated and pistol brandishing Ratwatte had, together with a group of friends including a beauty pageant winner (who had driven the vehicle the group including Ratwatte arrived in), who was also under the influence of liquor (some even falling to the ground) and were inappropriately dressed (in short trousers/shorts), forcibly entered the Welikada Prison premises after 6 p.m. and proceeded to view the gallows.
As per Section 39 of the Prisons Ordinance, a Parliamentarian who wishes to pay a visit to prison can only do so between the hours of 5.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. However, when Prison officials had, according to the sources, requested that the female accompanying the group not go past the cells where male prisoners are housed – which is en route to the gallows, where the group was headed – owing to her being female, Ratwatte and his inebriated friends had verbally abused the Prison officers, stating that they should not stop her entry and subsequent passage.
Meanwhile, the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners alleged that the female in question was Mrs. Sri Lanka 2021 Pushpika De Silva. De Silva however has vehemently denied her involvement in the incident.
On 12 September, a similarly inebriated and pistol brandishing Ratwatte had, according to sources, flown in a helicopter to the Anuradhapura Prison where he had summoned a group of Tamil prisoners detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 as amended [PTA] (reports state between eight to 16 such prisoners), and ordered them to kneel, and had proceeded to threaten two of them including Sulakshana (Prisoner Number 141 whose case is being heard at the Vavuniya High Court) at point-blank range, telling them to accept their offence/s and to submit to authority.
However, when contacted, Prisons Department Media Spokesman and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake claimed that he knows nothing regarding these incidents. Meanwhile, Ratwatte and the Prisons Commissioner General Thushara Upuldeniya were unavailable for comment. However, the former Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister’s Media Secretary said that there is no need to give a comment on these incidents since no such incidents as claimed by the media had occurred.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa as well as Opposition Parties including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) have called for the immediate resignation of Ratwatte in the wake of the incidents.
Premadasa said that he vehemently condemned the “disgraceful and illegal behavior” of the “State Minister” at the Anuradhapura Prison complex, without naming Ratwatte. “This disgusting, unlawful act amply exemplifies the anarchical situation that exists in our country. It is incumbent upon this Government to protect the human rights of all citizens of our motherland. This unlawful and despicable act is a further illustration of the precipitous decline in the present human rights situation in our country. I call upon the President for the immediate removal of this State Minister from office,” he added.
The TNA has called for the arrest of Ratwatte over the alleged incident of him threatening to kill Tamil prisoners in the Anuradhapura Prison on 12 September. “We call on the Government to immediately remove Ratwatte and have him arrested and charged after an immediate inquiry for allegedly threatening to kill prisoners in the Anuradhapura Prison on 12 September,” the party expressed via a tweet.
Meanwhile, TNPF Parliamentarian Gajen Ponnambalam stated that the party condemns in the strongest possible terms this “dastardly behavior” of Ratwatte. Also taking to Twitter to shed light on the alleged incident, Ponnambalam claimed that his party could confirm that Ratwatte had indeed entered the Anuradhapura Prison, summoned the Tamil political prisoners, and made two of them kneel before him at gunpoint, threatening to kill them on the spot. “Tamil political prisoners are already traumatized for being held in detention under one of the most draconian pieces of legislation known to the world, the PTA. To have the state minister who is supposed to look after their affairs threaten to kill them can’t possibly make their trauma any worse. The TNPF calls for the immediate resignation of the State Minister and for him to be stripped of all portfolios,” Ponnambalam added.
Elsewhere, the Convener of the National Movement for the Release of Tamil Political Prisoners, Father M. Sakthivel said that a special inquiry should be launched into the manner in which a firearm was brought into the Prisons and the Prisons officials allowed it to take place. He added that legal action should be taken against Ratwatte. He said that this was a violation of the rights of prisoners as well as a violation of human rights and that it was a criminal offense for the state minister to use his power in this fashion.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) also noted that it is deeply disturbed by media reports of two incidents where Ratwatte is alleged to have abused his position by entering two Prisons inebriated, and attempting to assault remand prisoners. The CPA also notes that this is compounded by past incidents of violence linked to Ratwatte including his alleged involvement in the murder of 10 Muslim youths in Udathalawinna in 2001 where he and several others were indicted for the murders but subsequently acquitted. The CPA therefore called for a credible investigation into the matter, and urged for action to be taken without fear or favour. It said that the incident in question reflects “the alarming trend of flaunting political office for personal gratification, the callousness and disregard for the rights of prisoners and human dignity, the use of arms to threaten individuals and the contempt for the rule of law in Sri Lanka”, and therefore called on President Rajapaksa to take swift and firm action to give priority to address the “deteriorating human rights situation” and “entrenched impunity” in Sri Lanka.
In response to a question posed by the media at a press briefing held at the Environment Ministry, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera made a statement about Ratwatte saying that the President and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa must take action if such kinds of incidents took place, especially when human rights in Sri Lanka are being discussed at an international level these days.