State Minister Lohan Ratwatte’s conduct at the Anuradhapura Prison has caused a great deal of controversy in the country as well as internationally. As lawyers for the National People’s Power, we emphasize that his resignation is by no means sufficient. Lohan Ratwatte’s actions are a complete violation of the Prisons Act and the rules and regulations under it. However, special attention should be paid to the incident where the inmates in the custody of the Anuradhapura Prison were made to kneel and threatened to kill with his pistol.
This is a serious incident. Violation of several significant ordinances, including the Prisons Act, the Penal Code, the Firearms Act and the Criminal Procedure Act. Even the UN Human Rights Council has intervened. It has been emphasized that this is in stark contrast to the basic Prisoner Protection Principles 45/111 adopted by the United Nations on December 14, 1990. According to Mandela policies, Sri Lankan prisoners must be protected. But this incident has violated domestic law and international law. It is said that the government has removed the state minister in this regard. This action allegedly taken by the government in the face of a massive agitation against this is misleading the people. Mistakes cannot be made according to the principles of criminal law. This crime is being committed against the government. But in our country, there is a precedent of dismissal or return of stolen property in criminal law proceedings. Minister of State Lohan Ratwatte has only had his title removed due to the incident. He is still the Minister of State for the Institute of Gem and Jewellery related industries.
Sathosa Chairman was appointed as the Chairman of the Housing Development Authority after it was revealed that more than Rs. 15 billion had been embezzled from the Treasury. Ajith Nivard Cabraal was the one who invested the treasury money in Greek bonds. He was made the Governor of the Central Bank again. Choka Malli, who was convicted of murder, sits as chairman of the Regional Development Committee. The person who was accused of making the tombs of his parents with public money has become the President. A land in Malwana has been taken over and constructed with public funds and today it has been turned into an ownerless land. He is the Finance Minister today. It is a serious incident to put a firearm in the head of an inmate in judicial custody and threaten him on his knees. How did the prison minister take the pistol inside? He has violated several criminal laws and is still living in peace. Why does the law affecting the general public not affect the Minister of State for Prisons? Even lawyers were not allowed to see the teachers who took part in the teachers’ strike. According to prison law, even a Member of Parliament can only visit an inmate between 5.30 am and 5.30 pm. But the minister broke into the prison at night. Even some government officials are involved. When the Commissioner of Prisons states that such an incident did not take place, the Minister of State for Prisons resigns. Which of the two is true? We emphasize that the government should not take this situation for granted. This is not a game, even when the UN Human Rights Commission is in session.
Breaking the criminal law is a sign that the freedom of the people is in danger…
The key point in the rule of law is that every citizen must obey the rule of law. Therefore, the law must be enforced for every person in the country. It protects the freedom and protection of every individual. This will ensure that justice is served with a fair trial. But when a minister of state takes the law to his own hand, the trust in the law is shattered. What if another cabinet minister tries to shoot someone on the street tomorrow? These situations are caused by the breaking of the law. This ends in anarchy. People can refuse to follow the law. It is a very dangerous situation. There are not one or two such incidents. The end result is a breakdown in public confidence in the law.
It is clear that the criminal law is not being enforced properly. Justice can be done up to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. But when they use their power to change even the decisions of the Supreme Court, the foundation of criminal law collapses. The basis of this law is the protection of innocent citizens. When it breaks down like this, a very bad situation arises in any country. Therefore, the criminal law must be properly enforced in this case. The case of Lohan Ratwatte is not something that can be easily dismissed. A very serious situation. It is symbolic of the serious danger to the freedom of the people, democracy and the rule of law.
It is the people, not the President or the ministers, who suffer in the face of international decisions…
We could have made up our minds when they brought in the 20th Amendment and openly stated that equality of law does not work in increasing the powers of the President. Even if we think as ordinary citizens and not as lawyers, we can act accordingly if they make a direct statement in this way. I do not even want to call the person involved in the prison invasion a minister. This is the same as the behaviour of this person in history. The police, the judiciary and the prison are all intertwined institutions. Society acknowledges that justice is served in a court of law.
There is no evidence that these people will not repeat what they did in history. This person has about half of the charges in the history of the Penal Code. There were trials in that regard. This is the only ministry given ‘scientifically’ as claimed by the government. This man was in prison. So he has a full understanding of it. So even when he acts in this way, there is no need to talk about others. As a country, this situation is extremely unfavourable with regard to institutions such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The restrictions and sanctions they impose on this country affect the people of this country, not the President nor the Ministers. Ordinary people need to feel the seriousness of this. We have to come forward as individuals and condemn these situations.
The government is responsible for the safety of prison inmates…
There are two specific points here. Going to jail when the State Minister does not have permission, and as the conduct of its officers. The relevant minister is allowed to inspect a prison. But reports state the way he conducted himself on this visit. His personal firearm has been taken inside the prison. In the past, security measures have been tightened in prisons to remove the shoes and belts of lawyers who visit their clients and examine their bodies. Even the pens were checked. The Bar Association also had to intervene in this regard. How did he have permission to carry a firearm when so many security arrangements are in place?
The Minister can inspect the prison. You can also talk to detainees if necessary. In the past Minister Douglas Devananda had to visit prisons and he had to face a serious situation. It is not within the purview of the Minister to take out prisoners and threaten them with a pistol. Many offences have been committed under the Penal Code such as trespassing, criminal coercion, making death threats, obstruction of duty by officers and unlawful assembly. The provisions of the Charter relating to the rights of prisoners have been violated. A magistrate or other judge gives a specific set of instructions and orders to the Prisons Authority regarding a person who is imprisoned by a court order. This is called judicial trust. The judiciary and the government should be responsible for his safety.
Confidence in the protection of these victims and their fundamental rights have been shattered. This is not a trivial matter. If a minister can go and show the pistol and pull people out, this is a situation like in Africa. This is not an African country like Rwanda or Sudan. This is one of the oldest democracies in Asia. This is not a country under military rule. So don’t make this an African country. Even a man in prison has rights. Don’t break these. The government should take appropriate action in this regard. If sanctions are imposed on this country, not a single ruler will suffer. Ordinary people in this country are affected by economic or any other sanctions. The rulers can go back to their home countries. There is money to go like that. None of us can do that. Therefore, the government should show the people that it is fulfilling its responsibilities for the survival of this country and the state.
On the other hand, the actions of the Commissioner-General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya should be considered. He has said that the Minister had come and discussed with the prisoners. The primary responsibility of a public servant is to uphold the Constitution. He has been sworn in for that. Public officials are bound by a tradition of rules. Despite all this, he has made a statement to protect his minister. State officials are not obliged to protect a politician. There have been eminent government officials in this country who have rejected the wrong decisions of politicians. The Chairman of the Paddy Marketing Board resigned saying that he could not agree with some of the decisions coming from above. Government officials need to have a backbone. He should be responsible to the people of this country. Mr Upuldeniya too should resign from that post. The Public Service Commission should hold a separate disciplinary inquiry against him.
Attorney-at-Law Harshana Nanayakkara answering questions raised by journalists…
If he has used public property, he has not done so for official purposes but for the amusement of their friends. What we are looking at here is not the vehicle he went in, but his behaviour. That behaviour is illegal. We are of the view that it should be punished. The Minister has no right to violate the human rights of the people under the influence of alcohol. Harassing people and having fun is a mental illness. The seriousness of the action taken by this State Minister is in line with the actions of this government in the past. The Mahara massacre and the Welikada prison massacre all raise questions about the human rights of our country internationally. It is this government that is creating the background to interference in this country and sanctions to be imposed. Hijaz Hezbollah has been in custody for 16 months without trial. We have no problem with trial and imprisonment if found guilty. Even poets are imprisoned in this manner.
Intellectuals were used to cross the river. Today they have been put aside. The intellectuals who worked to bring Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power are hiding today. Therefore, today this country is ruled by a mafia. The economy, the socio-cultural life of our country are all controlled by this gang. Depending on the severity of the incident, offences punishable by 1 to 6 years may have been committed here. It is not possible to say exactly because no investigation has been conducted yet. Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be forced to remove his parliamentary seat along with this incident. These are inevitable when some monks tie ‘Pirith Nool’ on the hands that need to be handcuffed. The same law should apply to the woman who was with him. The police have not yet begun an investigation. The two persons involved in the incident in Pahanthudawa were arrested the next day. This is a more serious situation. The police and the CID should go here and take statements from the prison officials and the Commissioner of Prisons. The most serious situation here is that even these basics don’t happen.