Welikada Prison inmates make video calls? | Sunday Observer

Welikada Prison inmates make video calls?

Welikada Prison
Welikada Prison

On Tuesday a sudden raid in the infamous Ward 3 of the Welikada Prison Hospital by a group of Prison Intelligence Officers unearthed four mobile phones hidden within the ward.While former parliamentarian Duminda Silva who was found guilty of assassinating MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra has been receiving treatment in the Ward since his incarceration, allegations have been rife that the recovered mobile phones may belong to the imprisoned politico. During the week an image showing Silva engaged in a video call from within the prison with an unidentified individual has been widely shared on social media only further fuelling these speculations. The images had been circulated just prior to the raid being carried out.

According to the Commissioner General of Prisons, Jayasiri Wijenath Tennekoon, the sudden raid was conducted due to a specific reason. “I cannot say who they may have belonged to but during the raid, we did discover several mobile phones ”Tennekoon confirmed. Prison officials have now handed over the items discovered to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for further investigation.

Social media

It was State Minister of Highways and Road Development Ranjan Ramanayaka who first revealed the photograph of Silva on social media. Sent to him by an unidentified individual from abroad, the image allegedly shows Silva engaged in a video call from within the lavatory of Ward 3. While Prison officials sprang into action after the image went viral, a source from within the Department confirmed that the phones were discovered within the same lavatory as seen in the image.

According to the State Minister, the unidentified source had revealed Silva was constantly in touch with a number of actresses, doctors and even Prison Department Officials through these mobile phones. “It is alleged he is conducting business deals from within the prison,” the State Minister said. These mobile phones were just one of the many prison perks enjoyed by Silva the source had told the State Minister.

However, this would not be the first time where privileged prisoners would be caught with mobile phones. In fact, in July last year, in yet another raid carried out officials found several mobile phones and SIM cards in the Prison ward housing Arjun Aloysius who was in remand over the Central Bank Treasury Bond scam.

While the Department of Prisons was lambasted for their inaction and corruption within the ranks, the discovery of the mobile phones in that instance caused shock waves prompting officials to take notice of the corruption which has allowed a continuous stream of mobile phones, drugs and other items to enter the prisons in Sri Lanka. It has also been alleged that suspects connected to the Prageeth Ekneligoda disappearance, the abduction of The Nation editor Keith Noyahr and even the killing of the Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge as well as drug kingpins, Gampola Vidanage Samantha Kumara alias ‘Wele Suda’ and Mohammed Wasim Mohammed Siddique are given preferential treatment despite being incarcerated.

According to the Chairman of the Committee to Protect Prisoners Rights, Attorney at Law Senaka Perera, the prison system is inherently discriminatory. “There is preferential treatment as being alleged” he said, claiming that Former Prisons Commissioner Emil Ranjan Lamahewa who was remanded for his alleged connection to the Welikada Prison Massacre would often be allowed to see visitors at 6 am. “Other prisoners could only meet their families after 9 am,” he said. According to him Emil Ranjan and IP Neomal Rangajeewa who was also incarcerated at the same time after being implicated in the Welikada case was allowed the use of mobile phones. Rangajeewa had even gone on to threaten a witness of the case through social media during the time he was in remand prison.

Addressing a seminar held on Transnational Crimes at the same time last year, Senior DIG Crimes, Organised Crime, Narcotics and STF Commandant M.R Latiff revealed that in the month of March, 2018, an identified prisoner in Welikada had made 3,950 calls while receiving 360 calls in return even from overseas, including countries such as Malaysia and the U.A.E. All these calls had been made despite mobile phone jammers being in place at the Prison. “It is almost as if the Sri Lanka Telecom Headquarters is located within the Welikada Prison” the top cop quipped.

Shenanigans

The shenanigans of Ward 3 have also been public knowledge for a while. According to one prison official, it is a hotbed for all things illegal within the Welikada prison. “It is a place where the privileged prisoners can get admitted to without any illness while those with real ailments are left to languish in their cells” he noted. It has been alleged that the doctors serving at the prison are also involved corrupt practices for monetary gain.

“Anything and everything is possible at a price” Ramanayaka noted adding that these include the use of mobile phones, internet, food, alcohol, drugs and even special visits. According to him, Prison Officials are paid handsomely for providing these facilities which have enriched them in turn.

“For them affluent people like Silva are goldmines” he pointed out adding that therefore eradicating corruption from the prisons has become near impossible due to its lucrative nature. “The organised crimes division of the Police believes they can curb the drug menace if the use of mobile phones in prisons is stopped,” the State Minister said. However, according to him, not only the use of mobile phones but drug deals and other illicit businesses are being carried out from within the prison walls unhindered.

In fact, despite implementing a number of steps to curb these issues and Minister of Justice Thalatha Athukorala vowing to get tough on corrupt prison officials who supported prisoners, not much seems to have changed a year on. “Things have been bad for a while and it still is” Tennekoon admitted.

“You would know better as to how they come inside the prison” Tennekoon retorted when questioned as to how such items continue to make their way into the prison despite the strict measures in place. According to the new Commissioner General of Prisons attempts to change the attitudes of those involved in helping prisoners to secure these items have failed miserably.

However, Tennekoon also said that raids are conducted at regular intervals without any warning in their efforts to discover and confiscate these items.

Officials also attempted to recover phones by putting up posts all over Weliakda prison walls calling for prisoners to hand over all illegal phones and mobile phones with promises to pardon them for the crime.

Wider plan

But understandably, Tennkoon says that instead of piecemeal measures a much wider plan and approach is needed to eradicate these issues from the prison system.

“For example, we need better technology to detect these items” he said , adding that however, budgetary limitations have become one of the main obstacles faced by the Department. According to him, discussions have been ongoing to devise a better plan to curb corruption and other issues within the Prisons in the country.

Perera says that the prison system must be better monitored and supervised. “The law is supposedly equal to all but is discriminatory when being enforced” he noted. “It is a pathetic situation”.

While the CID has now commenced investigations into the recently confiscated phones one can only wonder if any steps would be taken against the prisoners who had the phones in their possession. “Of course action will be taken and cases against them will be filed”, Tennekoon claimed adding that if found guilty the courts could add more time to their prison sentences.

But according to the State Minister, plans are already afoot to deflect the blame on another prisoner. Ramanayaka says stronger Ministers are needed to tackle these issues head-on.

“I have done my duty but unfortunately the real culprits never pay for their crimes as they use money and power to palm off the blame on to others,” he said.

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