The Sri Lankan government is in talks with the Chinese government to construct a new maximum-security prison.
The State Minister of Prison Management, Lohan Ratwatte, told parliament that the new prison will be equipped with several facilities and that the Welikada prison will be relocated to this location.
The minister further said the prison will be shifted to 250 acres of land approved by the Urban Development Authority.
Mahara prison massacre
This discussion follows the massacre of 11 prisoners by Sri Lankan guards at a Mahara prison during unrest on 29 November. Prisoners were protesting their continued detention during the coronavirus pandemic after at least a thousand inmates tested positive.
Another outbreak of COVID-19 arose in Welikada prison where at least 71 prisoners tested positive in November. The prisons housed 4,500 inmates despite being build only to accommodate 2,000 people.
Ambika Satukunanthan, former commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) reported that a “shortage of medical personnel is common” within the prison and that the “ratio of prisoners to Medical Officers was… 224:1”.
Tamil Political Prisoners
At the start of this year, Sellapillai Mahendran, the longest-serving Tamil political prisoner died in prison. Mahendran was arrested at the age of 17 in 1993 under allegations that he had been connected to the killing of 600 police officer in the East when he was just 14. Two years after his initial arrest he was sentenced to 70 years in prison and life imprisonment based on a confession produced following a month of torture in detention. Despite his successful appeal to reduce his sentence to 10-years, his life sentence was ultimately upheld. Mahrendran’s parents have stated that they were never told the reason for his conviction.