Daily News Editorial
Theme cartoons added by TW from internet
The long delayed justice on behalf of the prisoners gunned down in Welikada just over four years ago now appears to be a reality, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe vowing in parliament to bring all those responsible to book. Twenty seven prisoners were killed and another 40 injured in what was widely believed to be a targeted shooting of selected inmates who it was said knew too much about the deeds of the top echelons of power, particularly that of a top Defence official. Credence to this school of thought was provided by a former Senior DIG who was close to the power elites. Speaking to TV cameras at the scene of the massacre, he gave out a list of those killed, all of which strangely belonged to the “highly dangerous” category, with serious crimes against their names, such as murder, rape and drug peddling. An impression was sought to be created among the public that the gunned down inmates deserved to be eliminated and not fit to live. This was perhaps the blackest episode in our Prisons’ history ranking alongside the infamous prison massacre in July ‘83 where over 50 inmates were bludgeoned to death by fellow inmates who were allegedly armed by their jailors.
The Premier, tabling the report of the Commission, appointed by Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe in January 2015, which probed Welikada Prison’s clash on November 9, 2012, strongly condemned the killings at the Prisons which took place during the Rajapaksa regime. He said he had already instructed the Prisons Reforms Minister to take steps to implement the recommendations contained in the Commission report. A copy of the report had also been forwarded to the IGP, the PM said, adding that Cabinet approval has been sought to pay Rs. 500,000 each as compensation to the family members of the prisoners killed and Rs.100,000 each to the prisoners injured. The Premier further said that parliament would be informed of the future steps the Government intends to take to expose the assassins and steps to be taken against them once the police report into the incident is submitted.
It is hoped that the full gamut of events leading to this horrendous prison massacre has not lost the attention of the commissioners. This is because there were various rumours that were afloat that the prison breakout was stage managed to target specific inmates at the instance of a high ranking Defence official. This is akin to the much publicized round up of criminal elements in the Colombo city, also carried at the instance of the same official, where the same modus-operandi was adopted which saw criminal elements known to be supporters of the UNP were systematically eliminated.
The prison riot occurred a full two years before the present government assumed office and it should also be ascertained why no serious probe was launched into the incident by the Rajapaksa regime. Surely, a crime of such a magnitude warranted a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, no less, some would argue. Were there attempts at a cover up of the whole affair ala a Thajudeen? We say this because the same actors involved in the Thajudeen murder cover up also figure prominently in the Welikada massacre. Is this also one link in a chain of a series of killings masterminded by the top echelons of power, given that no effort had been made to unravel the truth behind any of these killings?
Be that as it may, monetary compensation on behalf of the Welikada victims is poor consolation to the families and the Yahapalanaya government should strive to do more to make these unfortunates, whose husbands and sons were the victims of the state no less, rebuild their lives although two years has elapsed since the gory happening. Steps should also be taken to reform the prison system in a meaningful way where the de-humanizing of inmates under the parlous conditions of prisons continue.
There had been much talk about introducing the ‘open air’ prison system that exist in most developed countries where prisoners virtually enjoy freedom of movement, interact frequently with family members and loved ones and is virtually a home away from home. Prisoner safety too should be paid special attention to, given the serious nature of the two prison incidents. The system of rehabilitation, counselling of prisoners too should undergo change in keeping with the modern times and measures worked out to ensure offenders, once released, do not come back to prison. Prison over-crowding which has been a perennial problem should also be dealt with expeditiously and conditions made more congenial for prisoners to lead a normal life.
Prison inmates, it need not be stressed, too are human beings who have not chosen prison life out of choice but are the victims of circumstances due to the vagaries and vicissitudes of existence. They certainly do not deserve to be massacred like animals just to make things smooth for the powers that be. Hence, the decision to ferret out all those responsible for this heinous crime should be applauded by all right thinking citizens.