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Tamil political prisoner files case against Lohan Ratwatte

Senior Attorney K Ratnavel

The Mannar High Court accepted a case against Sri Lankan state minister Lohan Ratwatte on Wednesday on behalf of one of the ten Tamil inmates forced to kneel before him at gunpoint when Ratwatte stormed into Anuradhapura prison under the influence of alcohol. 

Sivasubramaniam Thillairaja, who was remanded under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is seeking charges of contempt of court and committing a heinous crime under Sri Lankan criminal law against Ratwatte.

During the incident, “he [Ratwatte] asked each person one by one, did you kill any soldiers?” said Senior Attorney K Ratnavel. “He asked Thillairaja who responded he didn’t know Sinhala” then a translator was called in and Thillairaja pleaded he “never committed any murders and that his case was pending in the Mannar court.”

Ratwatte then pointed his gun at another inmate and said, “you sent complaints to the United Nations and Geneva, but nothing will happen, and we will never let anything happen” adding, “when the president gave me the minister position, he told me to do whatever I wanted to the Tamil political prisoners [...] I can release you, or I can kill you.” 

Ratnavel told journalists, “If an ordinary citizen had done this, he would have been immediately arrested for attempted murder [and] challenging the authority of the court” for threatening prisoners. However, the only consequence the minister has faced is to resigned from his post as State Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation. Despite this, Ratwatte has been able to maintain a different cabinet portfolio.

Sri Lankan Justice Minister, Ali Sabry, recently visited the Anuradhapura prison and told journalists “he had spoken directly to Tamil political prisoners and that they had not been threatened in any way.” Ratnavel called this “a blatant lie” adding the prisoners “signed an affidavit” describing the incident, “the Minister of Justice made a false statement in defiance of this testimony.” 

In September, Sabry, denied that there was a “racial motive” behind the incident when stating he would appoint a committee to investigate the matter. “Politicians should not interfere in this matter and do the right thing [...] the rule of law should be upheld,” stated Ratnavel.

The Mannar court judge requested the prison superintendent to conduct an inquiry into the incident and submit the report by the next hearing on November 30.

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