COVID-related unrest in prisons grow as escaping inmate in Kandy is shot dead


COLOMBO – Prisoners in many jails in Sri Lanka are uneasy over the COVID-19 spread in the correctional facilities, activists advocating prisoners’ rights have claimed,  attributing Wednesday’s (18) attempted prison break in Kandy, where one inmate was shot dead, at least partly to the unrest.

Senaka Perera, Chairman of the Committee Protecting the Rights of Prisoners, attributed the spread of the virus in prisons, where hundreds are being confirmed as COVID-19 positive, to the unrest.

Inmates at the Welikada Prison in Colombo, staged a protest on the roof of the prison on Wednesday,  demanding  their early released from custody to avoid contracting the novel coronavirus.

The National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), confirmed on Wednesday that a total of 505 prison inmates had tested positive for the novel coronavirus since October 5.

Sri Lanka’s Prisons are notoriously overcrowded and as a result infections such as the novel coronavirus,  which is now spreading ferociously in the countr, y could possibly devastate the prisons system, Perera warned..

The government has formed a task force under the Ministry of Justice to deal with the crisis to reduce overcrowding in the jails.

In the early hours of Wednesday, guards at the Bogambara Prison opened fire as a group of five inmates who were in remand custody attempted to flee, officials said.

Prisons Commissioner-General Thushara Upuldeniya told reporters in Colombo that when the five men had attempted to escape, prison guards had opened fire, causing two men to fall off the wall and sustain serious injuries.

One of the inmates had succumbed to his injuries, while the other  was admitted to the National Hospital in Kandy, Upuldeniya said.

Two others had been caught,  but a third man who escaped was nabbed in the afternoon in the Kandy town, Upuldeniya was quoted by media as saying.

The Bogambara Prison has been converted to “interim detention centre” for inmates who have been exposed to the COVID-19.

The centuries-old prison has not been functioning as a detention centre for some years as plans had been made to convert it into a Mall under a Japanese-funded rejuvenation of Kandy as a pilgrim city.

Prisons had been moved to Pallekelle, outside the Kandy city but after the COVID-19 outbreak, some of the cells of the old jail were opened up and converted to quarantine centre for inmate from all parts of the country.

Citizens of Kandy are angry about the use of the old prison as a quarantine centre and Opposition MP Lakshman Kiriella on Monday (16) said it posed a threat to the city and the whole district.

Perera, meanwhile attributed the protest as the Welikada Prison to the lack of food and facilities brought on by the COVID-19 threat.

Many prisoners depend on food and other items brought to them by family members,  as prison meals are often inadequate.  But the virus outbreak has forced the prison administrators to limit interactions with family members.

Last week women inmates in the fresh intake ward at Welikada, the country’s biggest jail, staged a protest after around 25 inmates tested positive for the novel coronavirus.


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