SRI LANKA: Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and survival in prison

An Open Letter from Inter-University Students’ Federation forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Commissioner General of Prison,
Prison Headquarters,
Dr Danister De Silva Mawatha,
Colombo 10.


SRI LANKA: Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and survival in prison

Convener of the Inter University Students Federation Wasantha Mudalige, Amila Sandeepa President of the Jayewardenepura University Students’ Union, Chameera Koswatte of the Center for Labor Struggle and Koshila Hansamali, who were active in the struggle against the Kotelawala Act, have been arrested on false charges. There is now a serious suspicion that there is a possibility of getting the Covid infection in the prisons.

Koshila Hansamali was the fourth person who was infected with Covid in prison while participating in a protest against the Kotelawala Act on August 3 in front of the Parliament entrance. She was arrested at her home on the night of August 3 for participating in a protest against the Kotelawala Act. After being held before the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court, she was sent to the Pallansena Quarantine Center in Negombo for refusing bail.

According to eyewitnesses, she was not infected with the Covid 19 virus. After the quarantine period, she was taken back to the women’s section of the Welikada Prison. Although the prison guards were constantly informed about the illnesses, there was no referral for proper medical treatment. Accordingly, she was not given the opportunity to be given the essential medicines she needed. As a result of the intervention of human rights organizations, embassies and political parties due to the aggravation of her condition on the 8th, she was sent for a cross examination on the 10th of September.

The results released on September 12 revealed that Sister Koshila Hansamali has tested positive for Covid-19. Investigations by the prison itself confirmed that Covied was not infected at the time of Koshila’s arrest. Accordingly, if Covid had been infected during the investigations carried out nearly 40 days after his imprisonment, he would have been infected while in prison.
Convener of the Inter University Students Federation Wasantha Mudalige, Amila Sandeepa, President of the Jayewardenepura University Students’ Union and comrades Amila Sandeepa and Chameera Koswatte, who were previously imprisoned for refusing to be released on bail, confirmed that Covid was not infected.However, they were taken to the Thaldena Quarantine Center in Badulla where they tested positive for Covid 19. The quarantine center housed only for 80 detainees. But it held 165 detainees.

On August 22, a search of 120 people inside the quarantine center revealed that 80 people, including Wasantha, Amila and Chameera, had been infected with Covid. The results were received on the 24th. However, the detainees were not notified or taken to hospital.Eventually it was reported to the media that on the 26th they had to admit that they had contracted Covid-19 and after that only Wasantha, Amila and Chameera were admitted to the Iyakkachchi Hospital in Kilinochchi.
However, according to health recommendations, a person with Covid 19 had to spend 14 days in quarantine, but before the expiration of that period, 11 days later, the three were brought back to the Colombo Remand Prison.But they are kept together, not separately, but with a large group. Accordingly, the lives of other detainees have also been seriously endangered. Wasantha, Amila, Chameera and Koshila were all infected with Kovid while in prison. While the risk continued to be reported to the courts, the magistrate did not take any action and charged them under the Public Property Act as they could not obtain bail. The cardboard coffin model was set on fire, causing a loss of Rs. 177,000 on the road.

Also, the fact that the Magistrate has been on leave on two occasions when the case was taken up and the arrest of the person arrested for deleting the data of the Drug Regulatory Authority which had filed a case under the Public Property Act itself is clear that these imprisonments are being carried out deliberately.Previously, they were not only provided with essential medicines or drugs but were also given the opportunity to meet with lawyers. Prison authorities did not take enough action to notify them or their relatives after Covid was infected.

The government is responsible for the imprisonment of a person. If the government fails to provide the health and safety of those individuals, the government has no right to detain them.There is a reasonable suspicion that there is an attempt to kill the four victims of the epidemic based on the fact that the four were infected with Covid in prisons and the manner in which the prison authorities acted in those cases and the court did not grant bail. Initially, Wasantha, Amila and Chameera were infected with Kovid, but through the failure to take precautionary measures against other detainees, Koshila also became infected.
We strongly urge the government and all government agencies involved in this process to take responsibility for the lives of all of them!

Udara sandaruwan,
acting convener,
Inter university student’s federation,
Sri Lanka.