Another contempt application against Ratwatte

An application was filed at the Mannar High Court (HC) yesterday (13) seeking an order to summon former Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte over being in alleged contempt of court, in connection with the latter’s reported intimidation of a group of prisoners at the Anuradhapura Prison on 12 September.

This application comes a few days after a similar application was filed at the Vavuniya HC on 6 October by the legal representation of three prisoners who are being detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 as amended (PTA) at the Anuradhapura Prison, seeking an order to summon Ratwatte over being in alleged contempt of court in connection with the said incident.

Attorney-at-Law (AAL) K.S. Ratnavel, representing a detainee, who is alleged to have been threatened by Ratwatte, told The Morning yesterday that a case was being heard in the Mannar HC against the accused under the PTA. He added that while the case has been ongoing for a few years, the Mannar HC had ordered that the accused be held at the Anuradhapura Prison.

“We have made one submission for Ratwatte to be charged over committing the offence of contempt of court. In that, we have noted that this prisoner was committed to prison by the order of the Mannar HC and that anything affecting him would therefore be interfering with the judicial procedures,” Ratnavel said.

Another submission they have made is for Ratwatte to be charged for allegedly committing offences and serious crimes under the Penal Code, namely, attempted murder and torture, which are also offences punishable under the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) Act No. 22 of 1994 as amended.

Meanwhile, adding that a judge or a parliamentarian can only go to visit a prison between 5.30 a.m. and 5 p.m. under the Prisons Ordinance, Ratnavel claimed that Ratwatte however, had gone to the Anuradhapura Prison on that day after 6 p.m. “Accordingly, he has violated the Prisons Ordinance and also compelled the prison officials to act in violation of it by taking these prisoners out of the cells. Therefore, in the application, we requested that action be taken in this regard as well,” he added.

In the application, they have also requested that the said accused be transferred from the Anuradhapura Prison to the Jaffna Prison as the said incident could endanger his life. However, the accused was, according to Ratnavel, not allowed to be transferred to the Jaffna Prison and was instead ordered to be given maximum security inside the Anuradhapura Prison.

The application also requested to conduct an inquiry into the incident on 12 September by summoning the relevant Superintendent of the Anuradhapura Prison and other Prisons Department officials. The Mannar HC has then ordered the Prisons Commissioner General (CG) to submit a report on the incident to the Mannar HC on 30 November 2021, the next court date.

The said application has been supported by AAL S. Thanikumar.

On 12 September 2021, an inebriated and pistol-brandishing Ratwatte had flown in a helicopter to the Anuradhapura Prison, where he had allegedly summoned a group of Tamil political prisoners detained under the PTA (reports state between eight to 16 such prisoners), and ordered them to kneel, and had proceeded to threaten two of them at point blank range, telling them to accept their offence/s and to submit to authority.

Prior to this incident, on 6 September, Ratwatte had, together with a group of friends, also under the influence of liquor, allegedly forcibly entered the Welikada Prison premises after 6 p.m. and proceeded to view the gallows. As per Section 39 of the Prisons Ordinance, an MP who wishes to pay a visit to a prison can only do so between the hours of 5.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m.

The Prisons Department, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) have since commenced investigations into the incidents, whilst Justice Minister, President’s Counsel M.U.M. Ali Sabry appointed HC Judge (Retd.) Kusala Sarojani Weerawardena to independently inquire into the incidents.

Ratwatte resigned from the post of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister on 15 September, and he is claimed to have, as per a Tweet by the President’s Spokesman, accepted responsibility for the incidents at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the same Tweet mentioned, had accepted the said resignation. However, in subsequent statements made to the media, Ratwatte, who remains the Gem and Jewellery-Related Industries State Minister, had denied all allegations made against him.