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‘We cannot be indifferent’ - Religious leaders call on Gotabaya Rajapaksa to release Tamil political prisoners

Religious leaders urged the Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to release all the Tamil political prisoners and grant them amnesty as the increasing threat of COVID-19 in prisons threatens their welfare.

Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian leaders wrote in a joint letter last Monday (18th January 2021) addressed to Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that fair treatment of political prisoners will promote peace and reconciliation efforts in the country.

They requested the president to grant amnesty and immediately release political prisoners, insisting “when one section of the population, however small it may be, is undergoing extreme hardship and depression the rest of the population cannot be indifferent”.

The letter highlighted the government’s reluctance to hear the cases against its political prisoners and the danger amidst COVID-19 infections in prisons across the country. They stated, “some of these prisoners are there for 8 to 10 years […] while others are there for more the 10 to 15 years” adding the virus has claimed, “16 victims among the political prisoners.”

The pardoning of other prisoners and selective release of prisoners was also highlighted. “We hear everyday number of prisoners who are serving long sentences and even life-imprisonment and death sentences being released. We are saddened to note that these unfortunate political prisoners do not enjoy any of these benefits.”

The leaders also ensured the grief and state of uncertainty experienced by families of the political prisoners was acknowledged. “The parents, wives, children and the near and dear ones have approached us with tears and requested us to somehow or other to get them released. We are deeply moved by their tears and depressed state.”

The letter concluded that a favourable response from the president would be met with gratitude from multiple religious leaders of all major faiths in the country and affirmed that the political prisoners would “not be of any harm to the society” and that they would be grateful to integrate back into society.

Earlier this month, an art exhibition was held in Jaffna demanding the release of Tamil political prisoners and one incarcerated Tamil took part in a hunger strike for being refused to go to court for his case hearing.

Read the full letter here.

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