Sri Lankan minister resigns over accusations he threatened to kill prisoners

Sri Lanka’s Prison Management State Minister Lohan Ratwatte resigned on Wednesday after being accused by opposition MPs of threatening to kill prisoners

Sep 15, 2021
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Sri Lanka’s Prison Management State Minister Lohan Ratwatte

Sri Lanka’s Prison Management State Minister Lohan Ratwatte resigned on Wednesday after being accused by opposition MPs of threatening to kill prisoners.

In his resignation letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Ratwatte – who held the portfolio of State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation – claimed he was stepping down “voluntarily”. However, the privately-owned Daily Mirror reported that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had telephoned Ratwatte from Italy and asked him to step down, followed by a call to President Rajapaksa.

“Having performed all tasks of this ministry quite successfully so far, and with the intention of not putting the government in a difficult position in light of reports appearing in the media at the moment regarding the ministry,  I voluntarily request your acceptance of my resignation as State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation as of September 15, 2021,” Ratwatte said in the letter.

President’s spokesman Kinsgly Rathnayaka tweeted that Rajapaksa has accepted the minister’s resignation.

Rathnayaka also said that Ratwatte had accepted responsibility for the incidents in Anuradhapura and Welikda prisons. The Welikada incident is a separate one that had reportedly occurred last week, involving an allegedly unauthorized visit to the prison complex.

Earlier on Wednesday, the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) demanded Ratwatte’s removal and arrest over the allegations.

Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) MP Gajen Ponnambalam first made the allegation on Twitter on Tuesday (14) when he claimed the state minister had “gone to the Anuradhapura prisons, summoned the Tamil political prisoners and had got two of them to kneel in front of him.”

“The State Minister had then pointed his personal firearm at them and had threatened to kill them on the spot,” the MP claimed.

The TNA called for an immediate inquiry to be followed by charges filed against the state minister.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa had also called for the removal of a “government minister” following the incident at the prison.

“I vehemently condemn the disgraceful and illegal behavior of a government minister at the Anuradhapura Prison Complex. This disgusting, unlawful act amply exemplifies the anarchical situation that exists in our country,” he tweeted.

“It is incumbent upon this government to protect the human rights of all citizens of our motherland. This unlawful and despicable act is a further illustration of the precipitous decline in the present human rights situation in our country,” he added.

The incident comes in the backdrop of the ongoing 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scrutinizing Sri Lanka’s human rights record.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had on Monday raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s conduct in addressing past alleged human rights violations.

United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy tweeted that the State is obligated to protect the rights of prisoners.

The Tamil prisoners, reportedly ex-combatants of the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were allegedly threatened by Ratwatte, had been detained under provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a piece of legislation that the UNHRC and other international organizations have been increasingly critical of.

(SAM)