SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTH­ERS

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL -

The is­sue about pow­er­ful or af­flu­ent peo­ple re­manded or con­victed tak­ing shel­ter in the prison hospi­tal has come up again. This time it has come into the pub­lic do­main af­ter for­mer Pres­i­den­tial Sec­re­tary Lalith Weer­atunga and Anusha Pal­pita, the for­mer Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (TRC) were trans­ferred to the prison hospi­tal soon af­ter their con­vic­tion in the ‘Sil redi’ case.

On Mon­day, Deputy Min­is­ter Ran­jan Ra­manayake and six other civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists had re­quested the Health Min­istry to trans­fer the Welikada prison’s act­ing Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Nir­malie Thenuwara af­ter she had rec­om­mended that the two con­victs be trans­ferred to the prison hospi­tal.

In a let­ter to the Min­istry Sec­re­tary they said the ac­tion taken by the act­ing CMO with re­gard to the trans­fer of the two had not fol­lowed proper pro­ce­dure and was ques­tion­able.

The Deputy Min­is­ter, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights (CHR), Ran­jith Keerthi Ten­nakoon, Hu­man Rights lawyer and for­mer IUSF con­vener Udul Pre­maratne, Colombo Re­mand Prison’s Nurs­ing Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Sec­re­tary Mahinda Kodagoda, Sec­re­tary of the Com­mit­tee for Pro­tect­ing Rights of Pris­on­ers, At­tor­ney at Law Se­naka Per­era, At­tor­ney at Law Na­mal Ra­japakse and Jour­nal­ist Ka­sun Pus­sawela were the sig­na­to­ries of the let­ter.

The out­cry by the civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists was an out­come of a se­ries of sim­i­lar in­ci­dents where pow­er­ful peo­ple of the pre­vi­ous Govern­ment were given pref­er­en­tial treat­ment over the other or­di­nary pris­on­ers re­manded or con­victed.

It must be re­called that for­mer Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Basil Ra­japaksa and two of­fi­cials, who were re­manded in April 2015 on charges of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing Divi Neguma funds, were also ad­mit­ted to the prison hospi­tal and in­ter­est­ingly the three of them had been later trans­ferred to the Colombo Na­tional Hospi­tal.

Now it has come to a point where one can pre­dict whether a per­son who is re­manded or con­victed would fall sick, soon af­ter he or she en­ters through the prison gate, con­sid­er­ing his so­cial sta­tus.

A few months ago Health Min­is­ter Ra­jitha Senaratne also had ac­cused a med­i­cal doc­tor at­tached to the prison hospi­tal of rec­om­mend­ing un­de­serv­ing pris­on­ers to be ad­mit­ted to the prison hospi­tal for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

How­ever, the prac­tice seems to be con­tin­u­ing. Hence Prison Re­forms, Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Re­set­tle­ment and Hindu Re­li­gious Af­fairs Min­is­ter D.M. Swami­nathan had this week made it manda­tory for any prison in­mate seek­ing ad­mis­sion to the prison hospi­tal to get con­sent of three doc­tors. But the ques­tion re­mains as to what pre­vents these pow­er­ful peo­ple get­ting the con­sent of the three doc­tors as well by us­ing their “power,” in a sys­tem rid­dled with cor­rup­tion.

No­body can and should op­pose Mr. Weer­atunga or for that mat­ter any or­di­nary pris­oner, con­victed or re­manded be­ing pro­vided with fa­cil­i­ties such as a bed and a proper toi­let.

But the is­sues be­fore us are the at­tempts to make a mock­ery of the law and cor­rup­tion in­volved in the mechanism that is meant for the erad­i­ca­tion of cor­rup­tion.

The mag­ni­tude of the cor­rup­tion could be gauged if a thor­ough in­spec­tion of the as­sets of those in­volved, was made, pos­si­bly run­ning into mil­lions.

Another se­ri­ous mat­ter is the re­peated and un­hin­dered pref­er­en­tial treat­ment es­pe­cially of peo­ple ac­cused or con­victed of high pro­file cor­rup­tion over con­victs or sus­pects of mi­nor of­fences who are not pro­vided with even the ba­sic ameni­ties.

While these things hap­pen there are another set of Tamil pris­on­ers, who have been lan­guish­ing in prison cells with min­i­mal fa­cil­i­ties for more than a decade with­out be­ing charge-sheeted. Some peo­ple are kicked into the Po­lice ve­hi­cles while some oth­ers are in­vited to the Po­lice Sta­tion or au­thor­i­ties visit them to record their state­ments.

Some pris­on­ers are al­lowed to bring their meals and mat­tresses from their homes but not oth­ers. Some peo­ple are ad­mit­ted to the prison hospi­tal when they en­ter the prison, while some oth­ers are given an alu­minum plate to eat in and a can­vas sheet to lie on in a cell shared with five or six in­mates. What an un­just jus­tice sys­tem.

One won­ders whether the au­thor­i­ties are main­tain­ing the sys­tem prefer­ably for their fu­ture con­ve­nience, as some day they too would be in the Op­po­si­tion.

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