By Puyumi Fonseka.
“Those who were killed were not innocent people. They deserved death because they were a menace to the society,” they say. But, no one has a right to snatch another life. The 27 prisoners including those who were selected and shot at would not have died in vain, but they did. The furious manner in which the armed forces quelled the riot apparently indicated ferocity in the disposition of certain groups in our society towards prisoners.
Prisoners picked out and gunned down
IP Rangajeewa and former Prison Superintendent Emil Ranjan were arrested on March 28 and remanded till April 10. When the case was taken yesterday, they were further remanded till April 25. The CID investigations reports indicated that IP Rangajeewa and two others had entered Welikada Prison on the night of the incident, dressed in civil clothes, selected a group of prisoners and took them to another location.
According to the CID investigations, eight of the detainees taken had been shot dead, which is a crime according to Articles 102, 111, 113, 189, 198, 296 and 355 of Paragraph 32 of the Penal Code.
The eight prisoners who were gunned down were identified as Malindra Nilendra Palpola alias Malan, Nirmala Atapattu, Mohamed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu Mama, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Ponna Kapila alias Asarappulige Jothipala, Harsha Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Maali Susantha alias Raigamage Susantha Perera and Devamlamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.
Out of the 27 prisoners nine died during the shooting carried out by the STF when they allegedly tried to escape from a three-wheeler (GH3423). Two more prisoners died in the shooting when they attempted to escape near a Prison Superitednet’s residence. The other 8 inmates died during the shootout between armed forces and the inmates, who were bearing weapons.
The CID investigations revealed, based on the evidence of witnesses, that a group of prisoners had been picked out and later shot on November 10th morning. This was after the Army had entered Welikada Prison later that night, brought the situation under control and left the scene.
Sudesh Nandimal Silva, who was in remand when the riot took place, speaking to the Daily Mirror said that he had also seen an officer in yellow t-shirt, whom he later got to know as IP Rangajeewa, having in his possession a pistol and a list and calling out certain prisoners by their names. Nandimal has testified before the CID.
Covering up the crime
Under the instructions of the then Prisons Commissioner General, the official photographer of Prisons Niraj Dushyantha Gunawardane had taken photographs of the dead prisoners and also captured the situation at the prison on November 10th morning. In those photographs, weapons were not seen near the bodies of prisoners Malan, Kapila and Manju Sri. However, a rifle was seen beside the bodies of the above mentioned prisoners in photographs which were taken later, the CID informed the court.
All the weapons seized from the prisoners by the Army were handed over by Sergeant Tennakoon to Jailer Nanayakkara on November 10th morning as it was noted down in the journal. CID officers had found four T56 rifles next to the bodies of the prisoners. They were among the firearms which were earlier handed over to Jailer Nanayakkara. The CID concluded that the four rifles had been brought back and placed next to the bodies of prisoners with the intention of framing an incident or covering up a crime.
All these findings by the CID were reported by the Daily Mirror in earlier articles using statements made by eyewitnesses, including prisoners and a jailer.
The firearms and other productions of the case have been sent to the Government Analyst’s Department for further study and a further report on the CID findings have been sent to the Attorney General’s Department, seeking advice.
Disputes with prisoners
It was also found that most of the inmates who had been picked out and shot were those who had filed Fundamental Rights cases and petitions before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) against prison, narcotics and defence officials.
“Emil threatened my son to withdraw complaint against him at Human Rights Commission”
During an interview with the Daily Mirror, Jayasinghe Arachchige Merlin, the mother of Devalamullage Malith Sameera Perera aka ‘Konda Amila’, who died during the shooting, recalled the history associating her son and Former Prison Superintendent Emil Ranjan at Magazine Prison.
Malith was a convict of a drug related crime. He had been transferred to Welikada Prison several days prior to the shooting incident.
The bodies of brutally shot prisoners were laid in order when Merlin visited the hospital to identify the remain of her son. The face of Malith was almost unrecognizable due to wounds. For a moment she sat breathless and was hardly able to believe her eyes. Then she recovered her senses and voice. She started crying for her son.
“My son earlier had had a verbal argument with Emil. Following the argument, Emil had summoned my son to his office and threatened to shoot him. Following this threat, I filed a complaint at the Human Rights Commission against him (Ranjan) over the death threat. Emil, who was infuriated, had punished and penalised my son over a confrontation that had taken place within the prison. My son had been threatened by Emil and told to withdraw the complaint against him at Human Rights Commission. But, he did not want the complaint to be withdrawn. This is merely a personal revenge,” remarked Merlin.
“Wijaya’s mother testified in a murder case against Rangajeewa”
Wijaya Rohana aka Gundu Mama was just over 40 years old when he was killed whilst being in Weilkada Prison. In 1997 he was a Department of Information accredited photojournalist at the Janahanda Organization. Samsan Alwis, Wijaya’s father, spoke to the Daily Mirror, displaying his son’s last remaining memento, Wijaya’s media identity card.
Alwis unfolded a devastating story about how his won was deliberately taken into custody. According to him, Wijaya was arrested over false charges in an attempt to influence Wijaya’s mother M. Siriyawathi, who had witnessed a crime allegedly committed by IP Rangajeewa.
“We live on Magazine Road, Welikada. If my memory serves me right, it was before 2014, when my wife M. Sriyawathi had witnessed IP Rangajeewa beating and killing a user of drugs named Channa near our house. My wife was the only eyewitness to the incident and this put our family in hot water. My son had also published some photos of Rangajeewa in the newspaper and he was angry as a result. So, he had two reasons to take revenge on my son. They deliberately filed a charge against my son that had a connection with heroin. That is what they usually do if they want someone arrested,” he said.
Siriyawathi, being informed of the riot through news broadcasts, had called the Prison at midnight on November 9. She had managed to speak to her son who told his mother that he was safe by that time. But, he was later dragged out of the cell and shot at.
IP Rangajeewa had visited Wijaya’s house during the memorial service a week after Wijaya’s death. Alwis claimed that Rangajeewa, accompanied by four others – probably policemen – were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the visit. Alwis said that his wife had been threatened. Alwis further said that alcohol must have given Rangajeewa a clumsy frame of mind because he had recounted Wijaya’s death, in Welikada.
“Your son was a cheap and worthless chap. So, I dispatched him to the hell where he deserved,” Rangajeewa had told Siriyawathi and Alwis on that day.
Meanwhile, the case relating to the alleged murder of Channa, where Siriyawathi was an eyewitness, is still proceeding in High Court.
However, the story did not end there. Siriyawathi was suffering from cancer. A depressed Siriyawathi took no notice of her disease until it grew throughout her body. In 2014, Siriyawathi, who had experienced severe body pains, was rushed to the hospital, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Samanthi. But, they could not reach the hospital.
While they were heading to the hospital, they bumped into IP Duminda Balasoriya of Walana Anti-Corruption Unit on the Magazine Road. He stopped them and and began questioning them.
“I am the mother of Wijaya Rohana, who was killed in cold blood, by Rangajeewa. Leave us alone at least now,” an irritated Siriyawathi, who was annoyed by the IP’s behaviour, had told him, according to Alwis.
IP Balasoriya had then dialed Rangajeewa’s number. Alwis said that although Samanthi could not hear what Rangajeewa had told during the telephone conversation, she had heard Balasoriya replying “What to do? I have to agree with you to do it although it is a sin”. Those words had brought the phone conversation to an end. Siriyawathi, along with Samanthi, was brought to the police station.
“The police allegedly put 550 mg of heroin for each individual as the charge against us. We were remanded on that day itself. We asked IP Balasoriya why he had no mercy for us and whether he had parents. He said his parents had died when he was a child,” Samanthi recalled.
Alwis made every attempt to request bail for his wife. However, in early January, 2016, she was rushed to the hospital. After a one and a half month battle with cancer Siriyawathi passed away in February.
Alwis sought legal action against the injustice from The Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka. Proceedings of the case HRC/2926/14 which lasted for two years, ended with no further action being taken. When inquired into by the HRCSL, it said their recommendations had already been sent to the relevant authorities and now it is not their job to follow the recommendations given.
“The Human Rights Commission attempts to cover up cases where the police and law agencies authorities are found to be the guilty party,” alleged Alwis.
“Complaint at HRCSL against Rangajeewa had to be withdrawn due to threats”
– Nirmala Atapattu’s father
Nirmala Atapattu was another prisoner who was selected and gunned down. Nirmala’s devastated father, Siripala Atapattu, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister last year narrating the ordeal his son had to experience. Earlier, Nirmala’s family had also lodged a complaint with the Piliyandala Police Station and The Human Rights Commission, Sri Lanka against IP Rangajeewa. However, Nirmala had been repeatedly threatened by Rangajeewa, forcing him to withdraw the complaint at HRCSL. As a result of the demand, Nirmala’s father had decided to withdraw the complaint considering the safety of his son’s life.
Nirmala, a father of one, was a barber and a driver by profession. On June 24, 2009, Nirmala had finished his work early and returned home as he had developed an illness. Several policemen led by IP Rangajeewa and attired in civvies had entered Nirmala’s house in Madapatha around 11 pm on June 25, 2009. He was asleep at that time. When inquired into, the policemen had said that they had come to arrest him for the use and sale of narcotics. Nirmala firmly had denied these allegations. Siripala said that his son had been brutally assaulted inside his house.
“Claiming that they had received a tip-off stating that my son was involved in drug business, they raided our house. But, they did not find any illegal stuff. They even threw chili powder in my son’s face. They beat my son so badly that he vomited. Then, he was stripped. Following this ordeal which lasted for two hours, they took my son to the police station,” Siripala said.
The rest of Nirmala’s story is much like what happened to Wijaya Rohana. Nirmala had phoned his wife and his father around 11 pm on November 9 to inform that he was safe. But, he was also in the list.
“We made every possible attempt to save him when he was in remand. When the real culprits of the drug menace are roaming free, my innocent son had to die because of wrong information, the police had received. No matter how much we are compensated with, we lost our beloved son, our daughter-in-law lost her husband and the little kid lost his father,” Siripala narrated.
“They want me arrested to finish me off inside prison”
– IP Rangajeewa
IP Rangajeewa filed a Fundamental Rights Petition in Supreme Court on March 20 this year, seeking an Interim Order directing the respondents including DIG Ravi Seneviratne of CID, IGP Pujith Jayasundara and the Attorney General not to arrest him until the final determination of the FR application is made. The court was also requested by IP Rangajeewa to declare that there was an imminent infringement of the fundamental rights of him guaranteed under Article 12 (1), 13 (1) and 13 (2) of the Constitution by the aforesaid respondents. In his petition, he has responded to the allegations levelled against him for his involvement in the shooting of inmates.
“The search was jointly conducted by STF and Intelligence and Protection Unit of the Prison Headquarters for drugs and other illegal stuff on November 9, 2012. When they tried to search the Chapel Section in the prison, the prisoners have openly resisted, attacking the STF officers with stones. Within a few hours, this resistance had developed into a full scale prison riot. Later, the Army had to be called to rest control of the situation within the prison which was created by rioting prisoners. By the following morning, the Army had managed to quell the riot and bring the prison under control. This riot had resulted in the death of 27 prisoners.
“The drug traffickers and their agents were making another attempt to get rid of me by getting me falsely implicated in the case of Welikada Prison Riot that had taken place on November 9, 2012. They alleged that I was involved in the killing of some of the prisoners in Welikada Prison on that day and wanted to get me arrested and remanded so that they would have an easy opportunity to finish me off within the prison.
“When I visited the CID in November 2017, the officers attached to the Special Unit 1 of the CID informed me that several prisoners and a retired chief jailer who was on duty at Welikada Prison on the day of that incident had given statement in 2017 alleging that I was one of the persons who entered Welikada Prison in civilian dress in the early hours of the day, in question, and was instrument in identifying and picking up 8 prisoners who were later found to have been shot dead. “I categorically denied the allegation made against me, stating that I had no involvement whatsoever in the events that took place within Welikada Prison in November 9 and 10, 2012.
“Despite there being a serious threat to my life and my health likely to be jeopardized if I am arrested and remanded, proceedings are being instituted against me in the Magistrate’s Court, Colombo. Since this is being done on the basis of this new politically motivated investigation conducted at the insistence of NGO activists pursuing political agendas and having links with drug dealers, I made representations to the Attorney General’s Department through my Attorney-at-Law “It is respectfully stated that any institution of proceedings against the petitioner on the basis of this politically motivated investigation, on complaints made with the blessing of large scale drug traffickers, would inevitably result in seriously affecting the credibility of the petitioner as a witness in over 50 narcotic cases pending in the High Courts, culminating in the discharge of all those drug traffickers.
“I respectfully state that the said respondents have acted maliciously, capriciously, arbitrarily, unfairly unreasonably and unjustly, motivated by political and / or other extraneous considerations when they field the further report produced and marked P13 in the Magistrate’s Court of Colombo and moved for impounding my Passport.”
Those who died might have been on the wrong side of the track, when the prison riots occurred. But, they too had a right to life. Punishment for those who are responsible has been slow in coming. The family members, whose loved ones died while serving their terms in prison, are waiting till the alleged mastermind of the shooting is brought to book.