The Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners vehemently condemned the recent deaths of two prisoners and the injuries caused to three other prisoners during a protest commenced by a group of prisoners at the Anuradhapura Prison on 21 March which they claimed was inhumanely opened fire on by the authorities (Prison guards).
The protest was over demanding urgent solutions to the threat to prisoners lives owing to COVID-19, food-related issues and other problems.
Previously, a prisoner from the same Prison had been suspected as having been infected by COVID-19 and hospitalised for treatment. During the protest, it is reported that certain prisoners had unsuccessfully attempted to escape.
Personnel from the Anuradhapura Police, the Anti-Riot Squad and the Special Task Force had been involved in quelling the tense situation (including a fire). The Committee pointed out that similar protest actions were being mulled by a group of prisoners attached to the Negombo Prison.
The Committee noted that on 16 March, they had handed over a letter to the President, containing several urgent proposals, requesting the authorities to protect prisoners from the COVID-19 pandemic in which they suggested that eligible prisoners (including prisoners who have received minor sentences, prisoners who are unable pay the fines imposed on them, prisoners above the age of 70 years, prisoners who are elderly and frail, prisoners have been extremely ill for a lengthy period, prisoners who are eligible for home leave/holiday, and prisoners who are eligible on the basis of behaviour/conduct review) be temporarily released owing to the severe congestion within local prisons.
In a press statement subsequently released in this regard by the Committee, the latter noted that if COVID-19 spread among prisoners, it is likely to infect jailors and prisons staffs which in turn would directly impact the process of meting of justice involving the Judiciary (Courts). The Committee claimed that Iran, South Korea and Italy too had taken similar measures.
‘If prisoners who raise their voices to protect themselves from COVID-19, have to end up paying with their lives for doing so or either because of being infected by COVID-19, it would be a most unfortunate situation,’ the statement issued by the Committee read.