Saturday, December 19, 2020

Postmortems of nine COVID-19 infected prisoners and two others killed in Sri Lanka being conducted

Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Sri Lanka reported to Wattala Magistrate Court on December 18, 2020, that the postmortem reports of seven remand prisoners killed in Mahara prison would be submitted to the court on December 23. Five of these killed seven prisoners are COVID-19 patients. 

CID cited that the postmortem had been delayed because of the cremation of four other prisoners was delayed. The postmortem of these four remand prisoners was conducted earlier and the cause of death was cited as gunshot injuries. 

The prison officials shot at the prisoners but the Prisons Minister Lohan Ratwatta lied to media that no prisoner had died due to gunfire. 

The lawyers appearing for the rights of the prisoners appealed to the court that the dead bodies of the slain prisoners buried but the CID objected it. The dead bodies were cremated later.

Chaos occurred in the congested Mahara prison in Gampaha district due to the fear of COVID-19. The prisoners demanded PCR conducted among them and the infected persons separated. Eleven prisoners were killed and over 100 were injured as a result of firing by the prison officers. PCR conducted later proved that nine of the 11 killed prisoners had been contracted COVID-19. 

(Photo: A man suspected to be another prisoner deployed without personal protective equipment to attend to the dead bodies while the officials keep a safe distance)    

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sri Lankan authorities remain insensitive about the funeral rights of even the youngest COVID-19 victim

"What was the sin committed by this innocent 20-day-old newborn baby for his body to be forcibly cremated?" former State Minister and former MP for Batticaloa District Ali Zahir Moulana tweeted with a photo of a 20-day old baby whose body was cremated by the authorities without the permission of the parents. 

Baby Shaykh of Colombo 15 was admitted to Lady Ridgway Hospital in the night of December 7. Dr. G. Wijesuriya, the Director at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital said that at the time of admission the infant had been in critical condition with severe pneumonia. The baby was transferred to Intensive Care Unit and connected to a ventilator. The hospital authorities say they had done their level best to save the life of the baby.  

His antigen test was reported positive by the afternoon but the antigen tests of his parents was negative. After that, they were sent to home quarantine. Baby's father Fahim demanded a PCR conducted for the child but they had been asked to do it privately. Fahim, a three wheeler taxi driver from a isolated area in Colombo city had no money for the test.  

The baby died in the evening and the father said that the hospital had given the news to media even before informing him. 

Fahim was called to the hospital and asked to sign some documents. The distraught man said he would sign only if the body was given for burial. The hospital authorities rejected his appeal and took fast actions to cremate the body of the baby under quarantine regulations. 

The health officials could keep the body in the mortury until the matter was explained to the bereaved parents. But the authorities did not bother and proceeded without caring the parents would come or not to the crematorium. 

The authorities of Sri Lanka's national children's hospital are criticized for being insensitive to the grief of the parents of the country's youngest person who died of COVID-19. The family has another daughter who is six years older than the dead brother.

Sri Lanka government continue their unconcern about the human rights of the COVID-19 patients and especially about the funeral rights of the dead persons. Muslims have raised their issue and some reject to accept the bodies of the dead relatives in protest of the government policy. They do not pay for the cremation which is ultimately conducted at the expense of the government. 

Christians, some of the Hindus and some of the Buddhists also do not creamate the dead bodies. However, the majority Sinhala Buddhist community has no cultural issue against cremation of dead bodies. Sri Lanka government does not follow the guidelines of the WHO in terms of the dead bodies of the COVID-19 infected persons and continue to cremate them forcibly if the families protest. 

Sri Lanka government issued a gazette notification on April 11 making cremations mandatory for COVID-related deaths. Twelve Muslim petitioners challenged the regulation in the Supreme Court, claiming it impinged on the fundamental rights of theMuslim minority. However, the petition was rejected. 

(Photo: Baby Shaykh)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Sri Lanka records the highest number of elephant deaths in 2019

It was revealed at Sri Lanka parliament's Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) meeting held last week that the country recorded the highest number of elephant deaths in the recent history in 2019. Accordingly, 407 elephants died in 2019 far ahead of the annual average before that which was little above 200. The vast majority of the elephant deaths are killings. 

Meanwhile, 122 humans also were killed in human-elephant conflict.

It was mentioned at the COPA that Sri Lanka had become the country that recorded the highest number of elephant deaths in the world. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka also became the country that recorded the second-highest number of human deaths by human-elephant conflicts in the world. India is the first.   

Sri Lanka has around 4,200 kilometres of fences that block the elephants roaming into human settlements. However, residents in relevant areas say they are not properly maintained. Also, the traditional forest land is encroached by farmers and politically-backed unscrupulous racketeers causing the elephants to lose their habitat. They invade the cultivations by farmers who use firearms and explosive material to chase them away. Most of the deaths of elephants occur due to gunshot injuries.  

Friday, December 11, 2020

Buddhist sect head says Dutch monk's death a suicide; not verified by post-mortem

Dutch Buddhist monk slain in Sri Lanka
The death of a Dutch Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka has caused controversy as the head of the sect deceased the monk belonged issued a press statement highlighting the death was a suicide. The press statement was issued by Thirikunamale Ananda Maha Thero, the Prelate of Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshitha Sect. 

The Chief Prelate said that the death of the monk could be suicide and asked media not to highlight it as a homicide. The temple the monk stayed belong to the sect and the temple the Chief Prelate resides. 

However, the post-mortem was conducted on December 10th by Dr. Janaki Warshahennadi, the Judicial Medical Specialist of Karapitiya Teaching Hospital of Galle. The verdict did not verify the death was a suicide and directed police to investigate further.   

Three police teams of Sri Lanka are investigating the death of a Dutch national Buddhist monk who was meditating in a Theravada Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka. The death was initially suspected murder. 

The dead body of the Netherlands national Buddhist monk was found on December 08, 2020, from a lagoon in Rathgama in Galle district of Sri Lanka. 

The 59 years old Buddhist monk known as Ven. Jinawansa had dedicated life for meditation. He has been living in Katudampe Polgasduwa forest monastery in Rathgama in Galle district since 2011 under visa renewed yearly. The monk used a canoe to come to the village for begging alms. His empty wooden canoe was first found floating on the lagoon. 

The monk's body was found dumped in the lagoon tied to heavy rocks. Sri Lanka Police suspected the late priest might have been murdered elsewhere and drowned in the lagoon. Three police teams are investigating the incident. He was missing since December 05, 2020. 

Post updated on December 12, 2020

Conduct postmortem and reveal the causes of deaths of detainees in Mahara prison

Mahara prison riots

By Anthony Vinoth, Coordinator - Sri Lankan Collective Against Torture 

Sri Lankan Collective Against Torture is highly concerned about the killing of 11 detainees of Mahara prison and injuring 107 detainees, in an incident claimed to be taken place amidst steps to control the chaos in prison on November 29. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and wish speedy recovery of all the injured detainees and the two prison officials.

We highlight that the security of the prisoners in state custody lie on the government and expect the authorities will provide a credible explanation to the society about the incident.

We want to remind that local and international civil organizations have focused the attention of the government many times to the elongated issue of congestion in prisons of Sri Lanka. We believe that COVID-19 would not make the prisons so vulnerable if the government had taken steps to provide sustainable solutions to minimize prison congestion. Several civil organizations, including the Committee to Protect the Rights of the Prisoners informed the authorities several times that spread of the epidemic in the prisons might cause panic among detainees. We stress that the cause for the unfortunate situation in prison is the failure of the authorities to take timely action. As a result, chaos has been reported from several prisoners by now.  

Two detainees lost lives in Anuradhapura prison amidst the first corona wave as a result of using live rounds to control the chaos. On November 18, one detainee of Bogambara prison died due to gunshot injuries. We focus the attention to the section 13 (4) of the constitution of Sri Lanka which highlights “No person shall be punished with death or imprisonment except by order of a competent court, made in accordance with the procedure established by law.”

The killings that took place in prisons within a brief period degrade  Sri Lanka in the human rights indices while affecting the dignity of the state internationally.

Even before the postmortem, the new Minister of Prison Management Hon. Lohan Ratwatta said in the parliament that no prisoner had died of gunshot injuries in the Mahara incident. This statement by the Hon. Minister was contradicted when the state counsel representing the Attorney General reported to the Magistrate of Welisara on December 8 that Criminal Investigation Department probes had revealed the use of firearms. The Sri Lankan Collective Against Torture protests the Minister’s statement in this context. We further demand the Department of Prisons to immediately hand over the unedited copies of the videos shown on media together with the equipment used to record them to the Magistrate Court of Welisara for further investigations. 

Also, we demand the government not to cremate the dead bodies of these detainees as per the quarantine regulations. We respect the interim order issued by Hon. Magistrate of Wattala on December 4 preventing the cremations. 

Hon. Magistrate of Welisara has directed the government to provide expert opinion regarding the postmortems, and we urge the authorities to take immediate actions in terms of this direction. In the context of the investigations after the exhumation of the bodies of the murdered persons had changed the initial postmortem reports, we emphasize that the government should conduct fair and independent inquests in terms of these nine killings. The cremation of the dead bodies considering the victims of killings as COVID-19 patients may hide evidence of murder, we stress. Therefore, we urge the government to use suitable techniques such as X-ray and conduct investigations without causing injustice to the victims of a crime and the families of the victims. The responsibility of a democratic government is to conduct murder investigations transparently and independently.

Sri Lanka is lagging regarding delivering justice to the victims of similar crimes that occur in the prisons quite often. The case regarding the killing of 27 prisoners in Welikada prison on November 9, 2012, is yet to be examined. However, accelerating the process of justice concerning exceptional circumstances is unalienable responsibility of the government.

Sri Lankan Collective Against Torture extends its fullest corporation unconditionally to its member organization, Committee to Protect the Prisoners’ Rights, in their struggle to seek justice for the victims of this incident and also to increase the security and facilities in the prisons.

(Translated by Creative Content Consultants)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Recover Better - Stand Up for Human Rights

Recover Better - Stand Up for Human Rights is the theme of Human Rights Day 2020. 

"This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination," the United Nations announced.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Speaker of Sri Lanka to host the budget party violating quarantine regulations

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena

Speaker of Sri Lanka is planning to host the traditional party after the budget is passed violating quarantine regulations, Lankadeepa Sinhala newspaper reported.  

The budget party is scheduled to be held on December 10th in the official residence of the Speaker. 

As the newspaper reported, all the parliamentarians and their families are invited to the party. The number of guests for the party is around 500 and food and beverages are ordered for 700 persons including the staff. 

Under the quarantine regulations in Sri Lanka, health authorities allow only 50 to 100 people for a similar party organized by ordinary people. 

White handkerchief marks protest against forcible cremation by the government of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan civil society is silently but strongly marking their protest against the government's inhuman  forcible  cremation of a 20-da...