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Jaffna protestors demand release of Tamil political prisoners amid positive COVID-19 cases

A protest against the growing concern over the plight of Tamil political prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19, was carried out on Monday.

Tamil politicians, parliamentarians, religious leaders, prisoners’ family members and Tamil and Muslim locals took part in the rally in Jaffna, organised by the 'The Voice of the Voiceless' – an NGO co-ordinated by former member of the Jaffna Municipal Council and political prisoner, Murugiah Komakan.

Komakan, who urged Tamil politicians last week to take immediate notice of the health-risk that Tamil prisoners find themselves in and to take immediate action to alleviate their sufferings, headed the protest near the Nallur Nallai Thirugnanasambandar Adheenam (Hospice).

Demonstrators, including the families of those currently incarcerated, displayed placards and posters with slogans including: “We will unite and rescue our relatives from prison”, “Tamil political prisoners must be released immediately!”, “Don’t continue to cheat us! Don't betray us!” and “Try to understand the pain of the families of the imprisoned”.

Tamizh Makkal Thesya Kootanii (TMTK) leader and MP, C.V. Wigneswaran, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Sivagnanam Sritharan and People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) leader and MP Dharmalinam Siddharthan were among those in attendance at the rally.

Posters also encouraged to call out the continued detention of Tamil prisoners, despite prison overcrowding. “Religious leaders! Social activists! Political representatives! Lend your voice for the Tamil prisoners,” displayed one poster.

At least 64 Tamil prisoners incarcerated in prisons across the island, including political prisoners, were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus. PCR tests conducted at Welikada (Magazine) prison in Colombo over the past few days confirmed the presence of the virus in the bodies of 14 prisoners, including Ragupathi Sharma, a political prisoner given a 300-year jail sentence in connection with the bombing of former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Earlier this year, a Sri Lankan government spokesperson claimed that there are no Tamil political prisoners as “those arrested in the North and East are detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on terrorism charges and cannot be deemed as political prisoners”.

Posters were held highlighting the government’s “responsibility to protect prisoners” and questioned “What is the we, Tamils have committed for the detention in the prisons to continue even after decades?”.  

Despite promises to release Tamil political prisoners, the government has failed to do so and the detainees are continuing to die without reprieve. In face of their dire predicament, many Tamil political prisoners have grown frustrated and concerned about the health risks. Kanagasabai Devadasan, a Tamil political prisoner from Colombo who has spent 12 years in jail wrote a letter this month to Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to expedite his case or instead to “hang him immediately” as a result of his unjust detention. Earlier this year, Sellapillai Mahendran, the longest-serving Tamil political prisoner died in prison. 

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