Opinion

The national security state goes up in flames

Summary

If a government cannot protect the lives of those behind bars, then that government doesn’t deserve the trust of the governed.

On Sunday, November 29 an uprising broke out in the Mahara prison. The unrest is suspected to have started as a protest against prison officials bringing in inmates from other prisons who had tested positive for Covid-19. Soon, the unrest turned ugly and the skirmish turned into a full-blown riot.

By December 1, at least 11 prisoners were confirmed killed and over 100 were injured. Among the injured were a few prison guards. We have also been informed that this particular prison was severely overcrowded.

According to Sudarshini Fernandopulle, the State Minister for Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation at the time of the riot (she has been assigned the portfolio of Pandemic control since) there were 198 inmates at the Mahara prison who had tested positive for the covid-19 virus. According to Fernandopulle, some of the prisoners had tried to escape and guards had foiled the attempt and unfortunately some prisoners were killed.

Unfortunate indeed, but fricking criminally negligent as well.

What the Minister did not say is whether the escape attempt was due to the high number of positive covid-19 cases among the Mahara prison population. Fernandopulle did admit that Sri Lanka’s prisons were grossly overcrowded by saying that the system was housing 32,000 in facilities built to hold 11,000.

Regardless of that obscene statistic, Minister Fernandopulle was certain that this particular riot was the result of a hidden hand, and not her government’s fault.

I cannot understand why this was not the first thing that cropped into the minds of all those who were blaming the government. Of course, the bloody hidden hand!

Other officials were also quick to get on the defensive misinformation band wagon. Minister Wimal Weerawansa, known for hyperbole and a creative imagination, was quick to refute that the riot was caused by overcrowding and the spread of covid-19 infections. According to Weerawansa, the riot was a plot by drug traffickers to discredit President Rajapaksa. Weerawansa is certain that two types of illegal substances called Sarath and Reverse were released among the Mahara prison population to hasten the riot.

Not so quick says DIG Rohana. According to DIG Rohana, the official Police spokesperson, prisoners who tried to escape were high on psychiatric drugs. Rohana says the inmates swallowed some 21,000 of these psychiatric pills held at the prison pharmacy before starting the riot. Rohana does not say whether the psychiatric pills were Sarath and Reverse.

Fortunately, the Secretary of Defense has appointed the obligatory committee to investigate Sarath, Reverse, prison overcrowding, killing at least 11 and the burning down of all evidence.

I can’t wait to read that committee’s report. Should be a hoot.

Just three days prior to the hidden hands of 21,000 pills of Sarath and Reverse causing all hell to break loose at Mahara prison, former Navy Admiral Sarath Weerasekera was sworn in as the country’s first Minister of Public Security. After being sworn in, Minister Weerasekera was quick to declare war on drugs and drug traffickers and warned that unless they changed their ways, they would pay a heavy price.

I don’t think anyone realized that the price would be extracted so soon or that it would take place in a location under the control of Minister Weerasekera’s own government. Let’s hope that what took place at Mahara was not part of the new Minister’s plan to clean the Sri Lankan society of the drug menace.

What took place at the Mahara prison is shameful, disgusting and cannot be blamed on forces of evil out to discredit President Rajapaksa because there is absolutely no evidence to support that self-serving lie.

What is evident is that the government of Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa were caught with their guard down. The Rajapaksa government failed to protect a group of Sri Lankans who were completely at the mercy of their government. Eleven people are dead and over 100 are in hospital due to that failure and the government’s boasts and promises of protecting the citizenry and the interests of the country is in flames.

If a government cannot protect the lives of those behind bars, then that government doesn’t deserve the trust of the governed.

Especially at a time of a pandemic.

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