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Fear of Contracting Covid-19 Led to Lanka Prison Riot, Says Probe Panel

Inmates protest on the top of a prison building demanding to speed up their judicial process and that they be granted bail, after the number of Covid-19 cases increased in prisons in the country, in Colombo, on November 18, 2020. (REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo)

Inmates protest on the top of a prison building demanding to speed up their judicial process and that they be granted bail, after the number of Covid-19 cases increased in prisons in the country, in Colombo, on November 18, 2020. (REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo)

The five-member probe committee's interim report said that the riot at the Mahara prison on November 29 and 30 was caused by the protest staged to receive a quick solution to the COVID-19 issue.

Colombo: A Sri Lankan probe panel investigating the last month's prison riot in which 11 inmates were killed has concluded that the prisoners staged the protest in fear of contracting the deadly coronavirus, an official said on Saturday. The five-member probe committee's interim report said that the riot at the Mahara prison on November 29 and 30 was caused by the protest staged to receive a quick solution to the COVID-19 issue.

Eleven inmates were killed in the protest. The government appointed the probe panel after pressure from the Opposition and the victims' relatives. What was a protest had later developed into a major riot, the committee said, adding that the divisions among inmates had also aggravated the clash due to deep running personal hatred as they belonged to different cliques and criminal gangs.

The committee observed that the inmates had violently involved in fisticuffs among them by using knives, clubs and swords found from within the prison premises. But none of the inmates had access to any fire arms. Only the prison officials had guns and they used them, the probe committee said.

As water supply lines were damaged, a demand by the inmates for water led the prison officials to open fire at them, according to the report. Post mortems reports would reveal if the inmates had been shot dead, it said.

The inmates knew that a large number of COVID-19 patients were in the prison, the report said, adding that they were justified in urging the authorities to ensure their health and welfare. The five member panel was headed by a retired judge.

The panel's finding of prison officials using guns to quell the riot stands in sharp contrast to the prison minister's statement in Parliament last week where he said that not a single shot was fired in the Mahara prison during the riot. The government maintained that inmates had turned violent by the excessive use of a medicinal drug and some unscrupulous elements were behind the riots.

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first published:December 12, 2020, 15:40 IST