Unrestrained spread of the Covid-19 pandemic within Sri Lanka’s overcrowded prisons has prompted the country’s leading prisoner rights group to call for international intervention.
The Committee for the Protection of Prisoners Rights (CPRP) has written to the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons where tensions are running high due to fears of contracting the deadly virus.
CRRP has made special reference to a prison in Southern Sri Lanka where detainees have been protesting the failure of authorities in implementing health guidelines.
“We are writing to bring to your attention the crisis in prisons with the escalation of COVID-19 in the last few weeks, especially the tensions at the Angunakolapelessa prison due to fears about COVID-19, with many inmates protesting on a rooftop,” says the letter to the ICRC country representative in Colombo.
"As you are aware, prisoners are amongst those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Although a basic precaution to prevent spread of COVID-19 is physical distancing, this is impossible in prisons due to massive overcrowding. The lack of adequate sanitary facilities, nutritious food, health care is aggravating the vulnerability."
The appeal signed by CPRP Chairperson Senaka Perera has made several suggestions.
- ICRC to undertake an immediate visit and do a rapid assessment of the COVID-19 situation in Angunukolapelessa prison and fears of prisoners.
- Undertake similar assessments through visits to all other prisons.
- To the extent possible for ICRC, provide immediate relief and preventive measures, including, but not limited to vaccinating all prisoners and prison officials, providing adequate personal protective care equipment, hand sanitizers, healthcare, adequate nutritious food, communication and implementing other measures needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and alleviate fears of prisoners.
- Inform prisoners and their family members of measures taken and to be taken to prevent COVID-19.
- ICRC to devise a plan to ensure regular visits to all prisons, particularly with ICRC prison doctors and have follow up dialogues with the relevant government authorities to bring to their attention problems and recommendations.
Last November, detainees in the Mahara prison protesting the lack of anti-pandemic measures were met with fire power ending in the death of 11 and injuring over a hundred.
Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera in his letter has requested a meeting to further brief the ICRC about the current situation within Sri Lanka’s prisons.