Image: 27 prisoners were shot to death on that day.
On last Wednesday, the testimony of prosecution witness, Former Assistant Superintendent P.W. Kudabandara before the Special Trial at Bar set up to probe into the Welikada prison massacre stunned the packed courthouse. Appearing before the court at its second hearing, the Former Assistant Superintendent of the Magazine Prison told courts in a startling revelation that on that fateful day in November 2012, two Army officers arriving at the prison showed him a list of the names of prisoners which they referred to as ‘Gota’s List’.
On November 9, 2012, the Special Task Force and Army personnel armed with automatic weapons stormed the into the Welikada prison. Their task on the day, they said, was to carry out a raid to quash illegal activities within the prison walls. It eventually led to the massacre of 27 inmates.
Nearly seven years later on July 4, this year, key suspects IP Neomal Rangajeewa of the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), Former Prisons Superintendent Emil Ranjan Lamahewage and Prisons Officer Indika Sampath were indicted in connection to the case. The trio has been charged with 33 counts, including the murders of eight prisoners during the incident, conspiracy and unlawful assembly.
In his testimony, Kudabandara recalled how he had hidden when the chaos unfolded inside the prison. Kudabandara said that s he had stepped out of the building, he was stopped by two Army officers. One had asked after two prisoners named ‘Ukkuwa’ and ‘Shiyam’ who was mentioned in what they called ‘Gota’s List’. Kudabandara said he informed the officers that both prisoners were currently not housed at Welikada.
When questioned by Deputy Solicitor General (DSG), Dilan Ratnayake, as to who was referred to by the Army officers as ‘Gota’, Kudabandara told courts that the officers had stressed on the name of Former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, during the ensuing conversation.
His testimony also revealed the horrific scenes unfolding within the prison walls as he conversed with the officers. “I could hear screams of the prisoners asking not to be killed. Some even called out my name asking for help” he said. “I could do nothing as I was mentally disturbed at the time” he added.
He also told courts how inmate Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara was dragged away by Army personnel. “He was hiding with me in the same building at the time,” Kudabandara said. He went on to reveal that he heard Kalu Thushara scream out for help. “In minutes as two or three shots were fired his screaming stopped” he testified.
Meanwhile, during his testimony, Kudabandara recalled seeing one of the main accused IP Neomal Rangajeewa inside the prison. According to him, when he came out of the prison at one point he witnessed three individuals in civvies walking into prison without any hesitation. Following them inside, Kudabandara told courts how he saw a man dressed in a yellow t-shirt engaging in conversation with some Army officers. “I inquired as to who he was from a person nearby and was told it was IP Neomal Rangajeewa.” he said.
Following the incident, the Former Assistant Superintendent told courts how three other inmates including Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila and Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan were woken up by a torch welding Rangajeewa. “When things had calmed down I checked the prison premises, I found their bodies stacked upon each other. They had been shot to death” he revealed.
Further testifying on Friday, Kudabandara admitted that during the initial stages of the inquiry he had concealed some information after receiving a death threat through an anonymous call. “It was the day before the initial inquires commenced,” he said.
He also told courts how he discovered T56 weapons placed near the bodies of several prisoners in the Magazine prison. The hearing of the Special Trial at Bar will recommence tomorrow (21).