Lohan Ratwatte prison incidents: Prisons Ministry releases Judge’s probe report

Complying with the order of the Right to Information (RTI) Commission, the Justice, Prisons Affairs, and Constitutional Reforms Ministry has released a committee report on the incidents of then-State Minister of Prisons Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and incumbent State Minister of Plantation Industries Lohan Ratwatte having allegedly forcibly entered two prisons and intimidated several inmates in 2021, following the receipt of the Attorney General’s (AG) instructions regarding the same.

Speaking to The Daily Morning, journalist Tharindu Iranga Jayawardhana, representing the Research Team of the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR), which had filed the appeal with the RTI Commission based on which the relevant order was issued, said that the Ministry had released the report on Monday (20). A letter sent to the CSR by the Ministry’s Information Officer M.M. Aliff, along with a copy of the relevant report, stated that the Ministry had received the AG’s instructions.

The RTI Commission on 2 February ordered the Ministry to release the report of the one-member committee comprised of retired High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena appointed to investigate the incidents in question, before 23 February 2023, thereby concluding the hearing of an appeal filed by the Research Team of the CSR.

However, the Ministry had not taken steps to release the report on the said date, and Ministry Secretary Wasantha Perera said that they had sought the AG’s instructions regarding the matter.

Against this backdrop, the CSR had requested the RTI Commission in writing to initiate an inquiry into the Ministry’s non-compliance with the relevant order, and to file cases at the relevant Magistrate’s Court against the relevant Information Officer of the Ministry, the officials who prevented the report from being released, and the Ministry, under the RTI Act, No. 12 of 2016.

On 12 September 2021, it was alleged that an inebriated and pistol-brandishing Ratwatte had flown in a helicopter to the Anuradhapura Prison, where he had summoned a group of Tamil political prisoners detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (reports state between 8-16 such prisoners), ordered them to kneel, and proceeded to threaten two of them at point blank range, telling them to accept their offence/s and to submit to authority. It was also alleged that prior to this incident, on 6 September 2021, Ratwatte had, together with a group of friends, under the influence of liquor, forcibly entered the Welikada Prison premises after 6 p.m. and proceeded to view the gallows.