CID Launches Probe Into Mahara Prison Riot
By Thameenah Razeek
The riot at the Mahara Prison left at least eight inmates dead and more than 70, including two Prison Officers, injured, said Director of the Ragama Teaching Hospital, Dr. Shelton Perera.
He also said the 16 detainees were in critical condition and that more injured inmates could be in Prison, adding that they were being brought to the Hospital from time to time.
Deputy Director of the Ragama Teaching Hospital, Dr. Sarath Premasiri said 16 among the injured persons are in a critical condition, adding that 15 surgeries had been conducted so far.
Two Prison officials, held hostage by Mahara Prison inmates, were rescued, the Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said. However, the condition of one of the Prison officials is critical, Police Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police Ajith Rohana noted.
Dr. Premasiri said that 26 inmates admitted to the Hospital following the unrest at the Mahara Prison have tested positive for COVID-19. Rapid Antigen Tests were carried out on 48 of the 71 inmates admitted to the Hospital with injuries.
Drone cameras were used to monitor the situation inside the Mahara Prison, DIG Rohana said.
Senior DIG of the Western Province, Deshabandu Tennakoon said that the situation was completely under control, adding that the Magisterial process will be conducted. According to Upuldeniya, the situation at the Mahara Prison had been brought under control by the Special Task Force (STF) and the Prisons Department.
“Most of the prisoners had broken into the Prison infirmary and consumed various medications which in turn meant that they were in a state of intoxication. All prisoners exposed to COVID-19 will be taken out for treatment while those who were granted bail will be moved for mandatory quarantine.”
According to the Police, a situation of unrest occurred at the Mahara Prison on 29 November after a group of inmates attempted to break out from the Prison following a clash with Prison officials. Then, the Prison authorities had opened fire to control the situation and a team of Police STF officers was deployed to assist the Prison authorities.
A total of five Police teams, led by the Kelaniya Senior Superintendant of Police and the Ragama Officer-in-Charge were also dispatched to ensure the security outside the Prison.
Subsequently, a fire had broken out at the Prison when several inmates set fire to the health office, a storage area, and several other places within the Prison. The fire raged on until 3 a.m. yesterday (30) morning and was later completely extinguished with the help of six fire trucks.
DIG Rohana said that the inmates involved in the riot committed various offenses including arson and damage for over a period of 14 hours since 5 p.m. on 29 November.
In the meantime, the State Minister of Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle appointed a Committee, headed by the Secretary to the State Ministry of Prison Reforms and Prisoners Rehabilitation to probe the unrest.
Pandemic-related unrest has been growing in overcrowded prisons. Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks at several prisons as the number of COVID-19 cases surges in the facilities.
Meanwhile, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne has instructed the Inspector General of Police (IGP), C.D. Wickramaratne to probe the tense situation which escalated at the Mahara Prison on 29 November.
“Initially, the Prison Officers got involved in easing off the situation. However, when it was noticed that the incident escalated to a riot, they had summoned the Police and the Special Task Force to the premises. Subsequently, the Police arrived at the scene and strengthened the security of the outer perimeter of the Prison. The inmates set fire to the Prison Health Office and Stores and it had raged until yesterday (30) morning. The Department of Prisons confirmed that the fire has been completely doused and that routine Prison operations were resumed,” a press release issued in this regard by the Ministry of Defence read.
Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) C.D. Wickramaratne has directed the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to launch an investigation into the tense situation at the Mahara Prison and a special Police team, led by a Superintendent of Police (SP), has been appointed to investigate the incident.
A large number of documents containing inmates’ registration numbers and photographs have been destroyed during the unrest, DIG Rohana said.
Magisterial inquiries as well as post-mortem examinations are due to be held, he said, adding that Scene of Crime Officers from Gampaha, Negombo and Kelaniya have been deployed to collect scientific evidence in connection with the incident.
In addition, a 10-member Police team, led by the Kelaniya Senior Superintendent of Police, has been appointed to investigate the unrest which erupted on 29 November. This special Police team will be looking into the deaths caused during the unrest and will record statements necessary for the investigations.
It is also reported that during the incident, Mahara Prison inmates had destroyed all offices belonging to the Prison located within the premises.
He further said that 78 inmates, who were to be bailed out, have been sent to the Addalaichenai quarantine centre. A total of 187 COVID-19 infected inmates at the Mahara Prison have been sent to a special unit located at the Welikada Prison.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice too has appointed a five-Member Committee headed by the retired High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena to probe the incident.