Sri Lankan Minister Accused of Abusing Political Prisoners Resigns

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Amid UN discussions on the country’s human rights record, claims that the minister in charge of prison affairs had drunkenly jailed and forced Tamil prisoners to kneel at gunpoint.

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Colombo, Sri Lanka – A senior official in Sri Lanka accused of barging into prisons and abusing political prisoners as if the island nation’s government was downplaying concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation, officials resigned on Wednesday. , officials said.


The allegations of abuse against Lohan Ratawate, Minister of State for Prison Management and Rehabilitation of Prisoners, came as the UN debate continued in Geneva about Sri Lanka’s human rights record.

The UN human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, called for “close attention” to increased militarization and a “lack of accountability” in the country, which is still reeling from nearly three decades of civil war.

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“Sadly, the surveillance, threats and judicial persecution of human rights defenders, journalists and families of missing people continues not only,” Ms Bachelet said, “but with a broad spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders.” It is important for the policies of the government.”

Opposition parties and activists have accused Mr. Ratwate of entering prisons twice this month under the influence of alcohol, and on one of those occasions, of being a member of or aiding a defeated guerrilla movement known as the Tamil Tigers. He has been accused of abusing the prisoners lodged in the charge. He is accused of forcing several prisoners to kneel at gunpoint.

Mr Ratwate did not accept responsibility in a statement announcing his resignation and said he was stepping down to avoid inconvenience to the government.

But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office said in a statement that Mr Ratawate “has taken responsibility for the incidents in Velikada and Anuradhapura prisons.”

It was not clear whether Mr. Ratwate was also resigning from his second post as Minister of State for Gems and Jewelery Industries.

Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission said in a statement on Wednesday that it was investigating allegations of abuse in prisons.

Senaka Perera, who heads the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners Advocacy Group, said Mr Ratwate entered Velikada Jail while intoxicated on September 6 and then into Anuradhapura Jail on September 12, which coincides with the National Day of Prisoners. , a commemoration to raise awareness about the welfare of prisoners.

Tamil National People’s Front MP Gajen Ponnambalam, who also made the allegation, said that Tamil political prisoners were vulnerable as they are kept under a law that allows long-term detention without trial or conviction. human rights activist expressed concern Prisoners held under the law, called the Prevention of Terrorism Act, are often Harassment, target of abuse and avenger attacks.

“For the minister who is supposed to look after their affairs, threatening to kill them can’t possibly make their trauma worse!” Sri Ponnambalam said on twitter.

Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009 when Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brutally crushed the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group that supported the cause of minorities, but often resorted to violent attacks and mass bombings. Since then the road to reconciliation in the country has been turbulent.

A coalition government that came to power in 2015 promised accountability for crimes committed during the final phase of the war and to address the grievances of the minority Tamil population. But activists say the return to power reversed much of the already slow progress In 2019 Rajapaksa Family – Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa became Prime Minister and his wartime Defense Minister brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President. Under his rule, the government is accused of doing politics that isolates minorities.

Since taking power, Mr Rajapaksa has pardoned several officers accused of committing war crimes during the final years of the conflict and called some accountability promises “political harassment” of security officials.

In March, the UN human rights body passed a resolution that strengthened work toward collecting evidence on crimes during war, a process Ms Bachelet said had begun.

Sri Lanka’s government continued to dismiss that call, saying its own internal mechanisms could address concerns without interfering in its domestic affairs that could polarize the country.

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