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Sunday, 29 January 2012

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High drama at Welikada Prison

Does the mutiny at the Welikada Prison on Tuesday have any semblance to the events that unfolded at the Galle Prison, a few days ago when two prison inmates were shot by Prison officials when they attempted to flee from the Galle Prison.

The two prison inmates were admitted to the Karapitiya Hospital after being shot at by Prison officials. Prisons sources said that one man was serving a jail term while the other had a court case pending.

However, the shooting sparked a riot in the Galle Prisons in which three prison officials sustained injuries while attempting to quell the riot.

The injured officers were admitted to the Karapitiya Hospital following a scuffle with the prisoners. Although the attempted jail break was foiled, tension ran high at the Galle Prisons with several inmates agitating for more freedom and restrictions of rules at the prisons to be lifted.

Following the unrest at the Galle Prison on Tuesday, an organised deadly riot broke out on Tuesday morning at the Welikada Prisons where 1,800 prison inmates were housed.

They were mostly drug dealers, men and women connected to drug related offences. Among the 1,800 prisoners were hardcore LTTE cadres held for various crimes. There were 180 of them at the Welikada Prisons.

Injured

The riot at the Welikada Prisons broke out around 10.00 a.m. on January 24.

Twenty-eight prison inmates and five prison officials were injured when they attempted to quell the riot to restore law and order at the Welikada Prison, Police Media Spokesman, Superintendent of Police, Ajith Rohana told the Sunday Observer.

He said the buildings that house the Prison library, the registry where the personnel data of prisoners were kept, the kitchen, stores and the laundry were completely gutted when the inmates set them ablaze. Steps were taken to transfer the 180 LTTE cadres housed at the Welikada Prison to other prisons as officials feared they would be attacked by the rioting inmates.

In 1983 following a riot at the prison several hardcore LTTE cadres including Kuttimani were beaten to death by other prison inmates.

Investigate

The spokesman said Senior DIG Asoka Wijetilleke has instructed the Director of the Colombo Crime Division, Superintendent of Police D.R.L. Ranaweera to investigate the Prison riot.

Meanwhile the CCD sources said they have recorded statements of more than 40 inmates at the Welikada Prisons and the sleuths will probe whether any corrupt Prison official had instigated the inmates to attack prison officials.

They will also probe how the inmates came to possess knives and swords while in the prisons. The damage caused to the prison buildings and equipment has been estimated at Rs. 7.5 m according to Prison officials.

The riot broke out around 10.a.m when the Prison inmates were barred from meeting the newly appointed Superintendent of the Welikada Prison who had taken action to curb smuggling of heroin, mobile phones and other prohibited drugs into the prisons.

They were mostly smuggled into the prison complex along with food parcels brought by relatives of prisoners. The measure to scrutinise food parcels and other stuff brought from outside angered many prisoners, mainly drug addicts.

According to figures provided by the police of the 1,800 prison inmates at Welikada, 1,500 of them were involved in drug related offences. Some were convicts serving jail sentences while others were in remand custody.

The situation went from bad to worse when rioting prisoners climbed a roof top of a building and started hurling stones at officials below on duty and at passing vehicles on the Baseline Road at Borella. Some prisoners even attempted to escape by breaking the main gate at the time.

The Prison officials were compelled to open fire on them to prevent a mass exodus of prisoners. In the melee several policemen along with police riot squads and Army personnel arrived at the scene to provide security to the Welikada Prison.

The Colombo Fire Brigade vehicles along with vehicles from the Air Force Fire Brigade that arrived to extinguish the fire were also attacked by rock throwing prisoners.

Owing to the riotous situation, the police closed Baseline Road for more than five hours to prevent injury to people and damage to vehicles due to stone throwing prisoners.

The move to close Baseline Road resulted in a heavy traffic congestion along other roads in the Borella junction.

The congestion also prevented school children from returning home early after school.

Bust

Two years ago, a similar riot took place when 63 policemen armed with a search warrant from court carried out a raid at Welikada Prison to bust up a drug running operation.

Police had prior information the drug racket was run by convicted prisoners serving long-term jail sentences.

However, the raid which commenced on November 7, 2010 around 7.00 a.m. ended in disaster. When policemen attempted to move 2,600 prison inmates from their cells to commence a search, furious prisoners armed with poles, bottles, and stones attacked the policemen. Following the attack, Police Special Task Force (STF) Commandos were rushed in there to rescue the policemen. Some policemen escaped by locking themselves inside the prison cells.

In the meantime, 300 additional policemen from Kelaniya, Meegahawatta, Dematagoda and Mirihana stations were rushed to prevent prisoners from escaping.

Injuries

However, when the riot ended many hours later, 44 policemen and four prison officers who sustained injuries were rushed to the National Hospital Colombo.

The then Commissioner General of Prisons, Major General V.R. de Silva appointed a committee to probe into the prison incident. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) also investigated the incident.

The then Minister for Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, Dew Gunesekera said the attack on the policemen was not a planned one. The minister said the police had raided several Prisons on November 7 with search warrants from courts.

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