A Sri Lankan probe panel investigating riots that occurred inside the country’s prisons last month which left 11 inmates dead, has concluded that the prisoners staged the protests because they feared getting exposed to Covid-19, an official said on Saturday.
A five-member probe committee’s interim report stated that the riot at the Mahara prison premises that occurred on November 29 and 30 was caused over coronavirus.
Eleven inmates were killed in the protest. The government appointed the probe panel after facing pressure from the Opposition and the victims’ relatives.
“What started as a protest had later developed into a major riot,” the committee said, adding that the divisions among inmates had also aggravated the clash due to deep personal hatred as they belonged to different cliques and criminal gangs.
The committee observed that the inmates had indulged in fisticuffs and used knives, clubs and swords found from within the prison premises to injure each other.
The probe committee also noted that none of the inmates had access to any fire arms and that only prison officials had guns and they used them to quell the protests.
As water supply lines were damaged, a demand by the inmates for water led the prison officials to open fire at them, the report stated. Only post mortem reports can reveal if the inmates had been shot dead, the report further noted.
The inmates knew that a large number of Covid-19 patients were being lodged in the prison, the report said, adding that they were justified raising concerns over their health and safety.
The five-member panel was headed by a retired judge. The panel’s finding of prison officials using guns to quell the riot stands in sharp contrast to the prison minister’s statement in Parliament last week where he said that not a single shot was fired in the Mahara prison complex during the riot.
The government maintained that inmates had turned violent by the excessive use of a medicinal drug and some unscrupulous elements were behind the riots.