Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
(January 26, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) It has been reported that four persons were killed at the Anuradhapura Prison after a shooting incident. According to the details reported a group of prisoners had been engaged in a fast in order to call attention to their problems. They had been fasting for a few days and the negotiations between the prison authorities and the fasting prisoners had not led to any kind of positive result. It is not yet clear as to the manner in which the prison conducted these negotiations.
The demands of the prisoners were
* For the prison officers not to harass the family members who come to visit the prisoners by way of addressing them in crude language and engage in other annoying behaviour.
* For the prison officers not to tamper with the food brought to the prisoners by their families to the point where it becomes inedible.
* For the prison officers not to limit the visits of the family members to five-six minutes as it is now and allow the time limit as allowed by the regulations.
* To transfer the present head of the prison as his behaviour towards the prisoners is unacceptable.
From the details given in the reports it appears that instead of negotiations prison authorities simply demanded that the prisoners give up their protest. According to statements given by some of the prisoners the authorities opened fired killing four persons and injuring many others. According to police authorities there have been casualties from the prisoners as well as from prison authorities. However, the police are unable to give details as they are only able monitoring the situation from outside.
The killing of these prisoners needs to be investigated by independent authorities as soon as possible. That there are serious problems in the conditions of the prisons is quite well known. The prisons are extremely over crowded which mean that the facilities for sleeping and the toilet facilities are in poor condition. Meanwhile prisoners have also complained of ill treatment in terms of food and other facilities.
The prison authorities are unable to offer any solutions to these problems as the solution lies not with the prison authorities but rather with the government itself. It is the relevant minister and the government that should provide the financial allocations and other resources for the solution of these problems. In the absence of any response the reason for the unrest amongst the prisoners on the one hand and the incapacity of the prison authorities to deal with these situations on the other become quite apparent.
However, under no circumstances can the order to shoot prisoners be justified. There had been many incidents in recent times when prisoners have been shot at. Perhaps the solution for any kind of unrest calls for orders to shoot some prisoners in order to bring the rest of them under control. Several prisoners expressed fear for their lives when speaking to BBC Sinhala Service.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to investigate this situation by appointing and independent commission of inquiry into these deaths. The AHRC also calls upon the Human Right Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to investigate the matter and to report on the situation as early as possible. In fact the HRCSL should have taken this measure when the fasting first started among the prisoners. It is one of the obligations of the HRC to monitor places of detention which include the prisons in Sri Lanka.