Sri Lanka warned “not to play with the lives of Tamil political prisoners”

Amidst Corona virus infection in Sri Lankan prisons increasing, protests across North and East of Sri Lanka continue seeking the release of the Tamil Political prisoners. Tamil political leaders and activists, members of the Muslim community and religious leaders joined the protests.

These protest from Mannar to Mullaitivu in the North and Batticaloa and Amparai in the East organised by Families of Political Prisoners, Civil society organisation in the North East and the ‘Voice of the voiceless’ have urged the government to release the Tamil political prisoners immediately on compassionate grounds as the second wave of corona virus infection is increasing at an alarming rate.

Families of Political prisoners, Religious leaders, and civil society members all came together seeking their release. Braving heavy down pour at one such protest in Mankulam in the war torn Mullaitivu district, they said that would be the ‘Thai Pongal’ gift to the Tamil people.

In the wake of a Presidential pardon to Buddhist Monk Uwatenne Sumana Thero who was sentenced to life imprisonment for illegal possession of firearms and live ammunition, the protestors sought such a pardon for the Tamil Political prisoners.

Prisoners tested positive

At a protest meeting held earlier in Jaffna, Murugiah Komakan of the ‘Voice for the voiceless’, a former Political prisoner told at least 16 political prisoners tested positive and have been taken to isolation camps. Among them 13 are Tamil Political prisoners of which four among are long term detainees and rest were brought in recently he says.

According to him the PCR test has not been offered to them nor can they afford it and also the detainees are hesitant to take the test.

The families of these prisoners are worried as they don’t have access to information. The protesters have appealed to the President to show compassion at least now on humanitarian considerations and release them.

Some Tamil Political prisoners are in various jails for the past 10-25 years. Many of these prisoners are yet to be charged and are incarcerated without a trial. Political and religious leaders have called upon successive government to release them but of no avail.

Kanagaratnam Sugash, a local lawyer and activist who joined the Jaffna protest says, “The corona infected people need special nutritious food like egg and milk which have not been given to them. Even more painful is the case of a Brahmin priest Raghupathy Sharma who has been sentenced to 300 years. What I understand from relatives is during this Corona time no outside food is being permitted inside the prison. He is a brahim and needs special vegetarian food. Since he does not have access to such food he has lost at least ten kilos weight. So we demand all the 147 political prisoners be released unconditionally immediately”

The activists say ‘Raghupathy Sharma is not an isolated case’ and almost all the political prisoners face the same plight. According to them they fear the political prisoners are facing a survival battle and lack of nutritious food may lead to their death. They also demand immediate PCR test for those infected and ensure their safety before things go out of hand.

'Don't play with the lives'

The protesters demand the unconditional release of all Political prisoners. Religious leaders who spoke during the protest meeting said the Political prisoners are physically weak and emotionally traumatised and possibly may lead to death.

“Pragmatically what’s more important is that we should seek pardon for the political prisoners. We also need to question to what extent the judiciary is compassionate in our country” a member from the Christian clergy told the media at the protest site.

Former MP M K Sivajilingam questions, “If Pillayan can be released on bail, why not others?"

"if you can’t grant them general amnesty and send them home, let them have the treatment and subsequently the government can take action on releasing them stage by stage” he added.

In spite of the seriousness of Corona virus spreading in the jails in Sri Lanka, the government has turned a blind eye to the increasing demands of the family members, political leaders and human rights organisations.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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