Second protest by Welikda prison’s female prisoners | Sunday Observer

Second protest by Welikda prison’s female prisoners

The second rooftop protest launched by female inmates at the Welikada prison on Monday (20) could have been prevented if the relevant authorities dealt with the concerns raised by the protesters in a more humane way, ex-inmate Tharanga Dilrukshi who was released on bail early this week claims.

The protest, which turned violent as protesters pelted stones and roof-tiles at officers, left eight jailors injured along with several inmates, and also prompted the transfer of over 50 female prisoners in a bid to control the situation.

The move by female inmates to voice their hardships, which included a call to expedite cases related to drug offences, need of basic facilities and cry against mistreatment and violence by jailors, comes exactly a week after their initial protest where 25 female inmates climbed onto a roof of a prison building and demanded the attention of Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Thalatha Athukorale. The protest was called off the following day after representatives of the protesters had a discussion with Justice and Prison Reforms Ministry officials who has promised a solution within two weeks.

“However, within these two weeks the prison’s officials have taken steps to unreasonably transfer a group of female inmates and this move led to the protest,” Secretary to the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) Sudesh Nandimal said.

He asserted that prisons are supposed to be correctional facilities, but that is not the case in Sri Lanka where an official attached to a murder of a prisoner is still working in the prison.

Echoing his allegation, Dilrukshi told the Sunday Observer that the prison officials were ‘adamant’ in taking revenge from prisoners who staged the initial protest and took steps to transfer some of them. The group included a woman identified as ‘Pichchai Ramani’.

Dilrukshi was just outside the prison gates that day when Ramani and the other women were brought into the prison from courts in a prisoner escort vehicle. She had seen everyone except Ramani getting off the vehicle.

“Then about eight to nine officers, including men, started to hit Ramani. She was dragged out of the bus. I was just outside the prison. I was helpless. I couldn’t do anything but shout and urge the officials to stop hitting her. It was later that day the other women launched the protest,” she said.

Dilrukshi said the demonstration was organised as a non-violent act but turned otherwise when prison officials started to attack the female inmates in order to control the situation and ‘shut them up’.

“What you see in those videos that were released on media are female inmates throwing objects at the officers. There were so much more happening on the ground. The officers were attacking the women,” Dilrukshi said explaining that friends who called her after the incident from the prison using its telephones related the story to her. Dilrukshi said a large number of female inmates were injured during the incident but they were not taken to the hospital as it will cause an uproar from concerned parties.

The Government commenced a preliminary investigation into the case. According to prison officials action is also due to be taken against those found guilty of vandalising and causing damage to prison property. Last week, after the first protest by female inmates, Minister Athukorale announced that a Prison Police Unit will be established within the prisons’ system in order to maintain law and order within the prisons.

Chairman of CPRP Senaka Perera said taking revenge from the inmates is not the answer for the real issue. “They were asking for basic human needs. These prisoners are voiceless people whose rights are been violated,” he said.

Revealing dreadful conditions she had to live in at the Welikada prison Dilrukshi,who was in her early 20s when she was first put into prison, said about 180 inmates shared two toilets and most times these toilets were clogged.

“We only had water for four hours a day. Nearly 400 of us had to bathe during these times. We are women and we need water. They took our basic right to have access to something as simple as water,” she said adding that the female inmates were allowed only three underwear, three night dresses and three dresses as they were kept in remand till their cases were taken up, and these cases were delayed by months and sometimes years due to the dawdling of scientific reports related to the cases.

She also recalled that the food they were given was of bad quality and gravy tasted like ‘chillie water’ and tea simply like ‘water’. In addition to this the Government took a move to limit the food that prisoners’ received from their families and loved ones in a bid to control the drug situation within the prison.

“We do not make drugs inside the prisons. The prison officials are the ones who are involved in drug trafficking there,” Dilrukshi claimed and urged the Government to address the matter.

She said all they ask is for justice and officers who attacked the female inmates to be punished. She said the investigations that are currently been carried out are biased as the statements are recorded from inmates working for and with prison officials. She demanded for a more transparent investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, addressing the Parliament Deputy Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Sarathie Dushmantha has acknowledged there were issues related to sanitary facilities as a result of congestion. He has said that female inmates will be transferred to prisons that were recently constructed.

Though multiple attempts made by Sunday Observer to contact Minister Athukorale and Prisons’ Media Spokesperson Thushara Upuldeniya for comment were futile.