The mother of Wijaya Rohana alias ‘Gundu’ believes the death of her son in Welikada prison recently was not accidental. M. Siriyawathi says that her son called her from a mobile telephone at around 8 p.m. and told her about what was going on inside Colombo’s prison complex. ‘Gundu’ had told her that there were many shootings going on but asked her not to worry. Siriyawathi said, “I advised my son to stay in his cell and close the door and not go out where the trouble was”. Later the following day she received a message that the caller was not sure but almost certain that ‘Gundu’ was in the mortuary.
Siriyawathi had rushed to the mortuary in total shock and confusion not wanting to believe her informant. Yet by around 4 p.m. her worst fears were confirmed: her son of 40 years was indeed dead and they were willing to release the body to her. H.M. Wijaya Rohana who had turned 40 on the 29th of October was serving a long-term prison sentence after being convicted of trafficking in drugs and having 10 g on him. Since the offence carries harsh custodial sentences and a zero possibility of making bail, ‘Gundu’ had already served nearly five years and had appealed his conviction and sentence. Ironically, Gundu’s home was almost a cricket-ball’s throw away from the cell he was housed in.
Relating the story and saying she was fully aware of the seriousness of the charges she was levelling, Siriyawathi explained what her son had told her in what she now knows were possibly the final moments of his ill-fated life. “My son told me that there was a lot of trouble going on. He was nervous but trying to calm me down. He said he would be all right because he had his three cellmates with him and that they had shut the door to the cell. There was in reality not much more he and his friends could do. He was on appeal and I know how he really died. When he spoke to me at about 8 p.m. he was quite confident that they would be safe as he and his cellmates had decided to keep out of harm’s way and the trouble that was raging outside the block. In the morning I spoke to one of his cell mates.
He told me that my son and two others were in their cell but that the Jailers had told him to ‘get lost’. My son’s friend had then said that he had not gone towards that cell and that he was quite nervous. He was very frightened and was jabbering away. He said that he thought that Gundu had been killed. I kept asking him where my son was but he could only say ‘inside… inside’. I was not so worried because my son last called me at around 8 p.m. that night and then I had heard nothing from him. However that was usual with calls coming from inside the prison. There was no set time and he called when the Jailers (mahatthuru) were not so visible. I did not of course expect that he would die. When I saw his corpse I noticed that his and some other bodies had the back of their skulls chipped away. “Yes I know my son was inside for doing something wrong. Does that justify this death? He was not some big underworld war lord. He was a kind, handsome son and the proud father of a 15-year old girl. Now we are destitute and his daughter is without a future. Even the money he had in a bank pass book will not come to his daughter because a girl friend of my son has got hold of that. The only consolation is that the body was handed over to me as his mother and it was deeply hurtful for me to bury my son. He should have been burying me. There is no justice and when you are poor like we are there is another law for us”.
Wijaya Rohana was just over 40 years old when he was killed whilst serving time at ‘Hotel Welikada’. In 1997 he was a Department of Information accredited Photo-Journalist with the Janahanda organization and his official press card was one of the last remaining mementos his mother had along with a photograph taken in 1997 with an Australian cricketer.
The claims are hard to put down during our investigations. Another mother told of her 34-year old son, who had a long criminal record. “Mrs. X” told us that she had received a number of calls from her son that night from inside. By morning the Prison authorities had declared that several people had died earlier on. This mother said that when she had eventually gone to claim the body of her son, his body was still warm – throwing serious doubts on the Prison Authority statement saying he had died before midnight making it improbable that he had died as claimed by the Jailers.
In spite of growing calls for a full enquiry the authorities have not paid any heed to this aspect – a necessary evil some said. The opposition United National Party has called for a ‘full investigation’ as have many other organizations.
The Prisons Department had permitted Ambassadorial and Diplomatic Emissaries to visit Welikada Prison and examine how inmates were being treated inside the sprawling prison complex. All had left satisfied that prisoners from their countries were safe from harm. Foreign inmates are held in different sections where last fortnight’s violence did not reach.
Sources at the Prisons Rehabilitation Ministry indicated that there were plans to permit journalists to visit the Prison complex after a full and thorough shake-up to weed out the more dangerous elements being housed at Welikada.
Wanathamulla resident R. P. Leslie, 49 was simply unlucky. If ever there was a case of ‘unlucky for some’ that was the tragic event surrounding Leslie’s death inside Welikada. The father of a 25-year old son, Leslie had been sentenced to seven days in prison term plus fines totalling Rs. 13,500 for a variety of Road Traffic violations when the Police had stopped him on grounds of suspicion of driving under the influence of liquor. In Court his mother was unable to collect enough money on the day and her son began his 7-day prison term, hoping that his mother would be able to find the money to pay his fine. The alternative to not paying up was set at a two-year prison term. Leslie found him-self caught up in the crossfire and the random shooting of his fellow inmates. A stray shot entered his arm and lodged itself inside his chest. The indications are that he must have died within minutes of that event. His mother was beside herself with grief and guilt. Grief for the loss of her adoring son and guilt that due to abject poverty she simply did not have access to borrow the required Rs. 13,500 to pay her son’s bail.
In spite of being the third week after the incident, the authorities seem to dragging their feet in extremely murky waters. Police spokesperson SSP Prishantha Jayakody confirmed that “investigations are ongoing”. Jailers at Welikada report a return to normalcy although a source from within told The Sunday Leader: “We are looking forward to getting more colleagues to help us” alluding to reports emanating from Minister Gajadeera’s office that up to 400 new recruits have been selected and that at least 200 were almost ready to start work as professional Jailers.
By Faraz Shauketaly([email protected])