No evidence prisoners were involved – HRCSL

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The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) said yesterday (30) that after the careful evaluation of evidence that was tendered before the Committee of Investigators (Col), they found that no prisoners had been used in perpetrating any attack on the peaceful protesters at Galle Face on 9 May.

The statement by HRCSL Chairperson Rohini Marasinghe stressed that President of The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) Senaka Perera was unable to find any facts in support of the insinuated allegations regarding the unauthorised use of prisoners for the attacks on peaceful protesters on 9 May.

The HRCSL had directed a special investigation team, the Col in regard to the unlawful incidents of severe magnitude that occurred at distinct locations on 9 and 10 May.

The investigation was conducted by a team of special rapporteurs, Sanjeewa Weerawickrama, Attorney-at-Law, lmasha Senadeera, Attorney-at-Law, and Dr. Dilshani Bogollagama. The CoI has identified incidents with nexus to acts of violence that took place in the country. A comprehensive investigation was initiated with attention to collaboration of necessary evidence with both documentation and electronic evidence including video footage. The investigation was conducted comprehending the severity of the allegations rendered towards the Government and the violence towards prisoners, in light of both local and international human rights advocacy.

The HRCSL stressed a pertinent question that came up before the CoI was to determine whether in fact prisoners were used by interested parties to attack the peaceful protesters at the protest sites at Galle Face and Temple Trees, and this was astutely examined.

This allegation that has been levelled is unfounded and far from the evidence that has surfaced so far. It is much to the regret of the Committee, the publicity regarding the alleged perpetration that was generated both in Sri Lanka and overseas has caused an irreversible disrepute to the good order profile of the country, as a Nation upholding the rule of law.

The CoI has recognised the magnitude of the actions committed towards a group of prisoners who was in the custody of the Department of Prisons. This said, a group of prisoners were subjected to serious assault, mental and physical torture, with disregard to any basic respect, by an unidentified group of persons on 9 May.

False propaganda and misinformation of the alleged use of prisoners to attack innocent protesters is both a diabolical lie and a deceitful action. The unprecedented ruthless nature of the attack on prisoners and officials resulted in injuries and hospitalisation of many inmates. In addition, preceding this incident on 9 May, 8 prisoners remain missing (on 8 June), causing a severe breach in the custodian responsibilities of the Prison Authority. In October 2021, following Cabinet approval, an agreement was formulated between the Government of Sri Lanka and Avant Garde Manpower Recruiting (Private) Limited on ‘Productive utilisation of prison inmates as skilled labour in Sri Lanka.’ The selected group of eligible prisoners for this programme were detained at the Watareka Open Prison Camp. The CoI codified the comprehensive evidence provided by the prison authorities, respective officials, along with the participating prisoners of this programme for the detailed investigation. Meticulous attention was paid by the COI to verify the important fact that the prisoners remained in their respective locations of work at all times of the alleged incident. Exact time of arrival and departure of the inmates and the vehicles were allocated, further validated through CCTV footage from the sites of question, provided by the independent contractors, Tudawe Brothers and MAGA Construction.

As per the outcome of the investigation carried out by the Col, it was unable to find any facts in support of the insinuated allegations regarding the unauthorised use of prisoners for the attacks on peaceful protesters on 9 May. Furthermore, after in-depth evaluation, no material evidence was found in electronic or printed forms in favour of the allegations.

The CoI identified that the news item of consequence arose following a Media briefing held by the President of The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) on 10 May at Galle Face. The CoI summoned the two spokesmen representing CPRP, that expressed their views to the national Media at this Media briefing in regard to the alleged incident.

Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera, the convener of the briefing, identified himself as a human rights activist. The CoI provided Perera with the opportunity to justify his statements that caused an outrage in both Sri Lanka and the world at large. For the purpose of submission of any evidence, in either oral statements or picture documentation in support of his statements, Perera was extended a justifiable time period. However, he expressly affirmed before the Committee that at the time of the statement or even thereafter he did not have any tangible evidence in favour of his expressed views in regard to the alleged incident. Sudesh Nandimal Silva was also summoned to give evidence before the Col.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan