"Britannicus was handed a harmless drink. The taster had tasted it; but Britannicus found it too hot and refused it. Then cold water containing the poison was added. Speechless, his whole body convulsed, he instantly ceased to breathe. His companions were horrified. Some, uncomprehending, fled. Others understanding better, remained rooted in their places, staring at Nero. He still lay back unconcernedly - and he remarked that this often happened to epileptics [and soon Britannicus'] consciousness would return...After a short silence the banquet continued.
"Britannicus was cremated the night he died. Indeed, preparations for his inexpensive funeral had already been made. As his remains were placed in the imperial mausoleum, there was a violent storm. It was widely believed that the gods were showing their fury at the boy's murder - though even his fellow-men generally condoned it, arguing that brothers were traditional enemies and that the empire was indivisible."
- Publius Gaius Tacitus, from Histories
In what follows, the basic facts are culled from accounts of the inquest proceedings the Magistrates reports themselves [Mag] and the account reported in the Ceylon Daily News [CDN]. Where they differ, it will be indicated. The CDN reports are of value because the reporter has been good at recording the English nuances. Where other sources are used, they will be indicated. To begin with, a special acknowledgement must be made. It was the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka and the Home for Human Rights, which first set out to bring justice to the victims and their families and to put the record straight. At the request of the Home for Human Rights, the Civil Rights Movement in 1985 assisted families of the victims to file 30 civil actions in court. To this end Suriya Wickremasinghe, secretary to the CRM, had carefully sifted the evidence and interviewed outside this country all but one or two of the 19 survivors. She is currently working on a book on the affair. She has kindly made available to us her analysis of the inquest proceedings and certain other materials. Where we have availed ourselves of her notes and analysis, it will be acknowledged by the initials SW.[Top]
The Tamil prisoners detained under the PTA were housed in the ground floor of the Chapel Section of Welikade Prison. Being in the shape of a cross, it had four wings A,B,C & D, with A3, B3, C3 & D3 being on the ground. Six convicted Tamil prisoners including Kuttimani, Thangathurai and Jegan of the TELO, detained and convicted after the Neervely bank robbery of 1981 and who had appealed against death sentences, were in the front section of B3. B3 had a wooden partition and the rear section had also gallows. These 6 were each kept in one cell. D3 had 29 Tamil prisoners detained under the PTA and C3 had 28. Nine others were in the Youthful Offenders Building (YOB). They were Dr. Tharmalingam, Kovai Mahesen, Dr. Rajasundaram, A. David, Mr. Nithiananthan, Fr. Singarayar, Fr. Sinnarasa, Rev. Jeyatilekarajah and Dr. Jeyakularajah. According to Mr. C.T. Jansz, then Deputy Commissioner of Prisons, those in D3 were mostly young boys taken in on suspicion and were due to be released soon. Mr. Delgoda, Commissioner of Prisons, was then abroad for a conference.
A3 housed dangerous criminals and those who had attempted to escape, and were nearly all Sinhalese. A prominent figure there was Sepala Ekanayake, convicted after hijacking an aircraft in 1982.
The two upper floors, or gallery, of the Chapel Block housed 800 850 ordinary convicted prisoners. The space on the ground floor between the 4 wings is the lobby, the entrance to which is through an iron door between B3 and C3. These ordinary prisoners performed manual work during the day in the industrial section or elsewhere and their sections and cells were locked up only when they were occupied; that is during the night and during the lunch hour. We understand that during lunch they were in practice not locked up. Two guards were always stationed on each upper floor.
On the ground floor there was a passage leading into each wing with a row of cells on either side. The prisoners were locked into their cells with guards holding the keys stationed in the passage. There were two guards in the passage of B3 and 4 each in A3, C3 and D3. The iron door to each passage was locked and there was a guard in the lobby holding the key to each wing. But in practice the prisoners were not locked into the cells during daytime, but the passage door was locked and the prisoners were in the corridor with the guards, talking or playing games like cards. On a normal day there were 4+4+4+2+2 (in the lobby) = 16 guards on the ground floor. But at the time of the incident on the 25th, there seem to have been fewer.
On duty outside the prison gates were men from an army platoon. Their job was formally to prevent the Tamil PTA detainees from escaping. A precedent was set in the early 60s when army personnel were similarly posted when suspects in the 1962-attempted coup were detained.
Two days before he was murdered, on 23rd July, Kuttimani, a leading member of TELO who had appealed against his death sentence for murder during the Neervely bank heist, approached a prison official. He told the official very politely, 'Sir, I have a request to make.' The official was a little anxious. Kuttimani explained that the Tamil prisoners are given coconut oil to apply on their head, which does not agree with them. He requested gingelly oil for the Tamil prisoners, which was their traditional hair oil. The official knew that everyone was being watched and no one wished to be seen as being considerate to these Tamil prisoners. He wondered why someone more appropriate, such as the superintendent, had not seen to it.
Seeing the official in a dilemma, Kuttimani said, "Sir, I see that you have a difficulty. We made our choice. We became liberation fighters of our own accord. It is our duty to endure any privation, any suffering that fate has placed before us. I will, sir, not trouble you any further." Kuttimani smiled, saluted the official and withdrew. That was the last time the official saw him alive.
On the evening of the 24th, the prisoners heard the commotion in Borella. At 8.00 A.M. on the 25th morning the prisoners on the ground floor were taken out for an airing. The prisoners condemned to death, received newspapers, and Kuttimani whispered to some of the prisoners that 13 soldiers had been killed in Jaffna on the 23rd night. At 10.00 A.M., the prisoners could feel the tense atmosphere inside and then they were locked into their cells. About 2.15 P.M. the prisoners heard noises from the direction of B3 from blows being aimed at the door, and from a huge crowd in the lobby. They knew there was danger. They asked the guard in their wing, and he said nothing. Manikkadasan who was in C3 climbed up, peeped through the ventilator, and told the others that Tamil prisoners had been killed and that their corpses were being drawn out into the grounds.
Those from C3 attribute their survival to the jail guard in their wing whom they described as a decent man, whose name unfortunately has evaded us. He asked the prisoners to move back from their cell doors and told them, If they are to get you, it will have to be over my dead body. He then took the keys to the cell doors, hid them in the toilet, came back and stood at the barred entrance to the wing. When some of the attackers turned their attention to his wing, he stretched out his arms and faced them. The attacking prisoners turned away. It has been suggested by knowledgeable persons that prisoners as a rule will never attack a jail guard. As compared with the thousands of prisoners, only about 50 or so jail guards would be on duty at any time. It is the authority exercised by the guards that keeps the system going.
We will now move onto testimonies given at the magistrates inquest into the jail massacre of 25th July.
Alexis Leo de Silva, Superintendent, Welikade Prison:
He had never noticed any hostility between the Tamil prisoners on the ground and the convicted prisoners upstairs. About 2.15 P.M., after lunch, he heard the blowing of whistles and the alarm being raised. From his office, he ran off towards the Chapel Section where the commotion was. Among those who ran along with him were his two ASPs (Assistant Superintendents), Amarasinghe and Danny Munaweera. The door to the entrance was open, but was barricaded by prisoners. He used force to get into the lobby.
He saw 300 to 400 prisoners inside the lobby and heard the banging of cell doors and screams from B3. About 20 to 25 attackers had entered B3 and were banging on the last door of B3, where all six prisoners in that wing had been locked up. The guards tried to push the attacking prisoners out, but without success. He (de Silva) managed to enter B3, but was pushed out into the lobby. From the lobby he heard thudding sounds of objects falling on human bodies, with screams.
Leo de Silva shouted to the guards to bring the mob of prisoners under control and to call for help from the army personnel at the prison gate. He then saw some of the prisoners entering D3 followed by thudding noises and screams. He saw some of the prisoners themselves trying to control the mob, but they were overwhelmed. This went on for several minutes when he saw army personnel.
He saw Acting Commissioner of Prisons Christopher Theodore (Cutty) Jansz using physical force. But none of them, Jansz, the Army nor the prisoners trying to help, was able to enter the wings. A few minutes later he saw the prisoners moving to the cells upstairs. Mr. Jansz remained with him in the lobby. From the lobby, he saw several bodies lying in the corridors of B3 and D3. After some time the situation was generally under control. Some prisoners were walking about the lobby. There were no army personnel at that stage.
C.T. Jansz, Acting Commissioner of Prisons:
His office facing Baseline Road adjoins the prison entrance to the north. About 2.00 P.M. his peons came running to him and informed him of a commotion in the prison. Rushing through the main entrance, he forced his way through the human barrier into the lobby of the Chapel Section that has space for 300 to 400 persons. He saw a mixture of prisoners and prison officers. There were prisoners watching from the gallery above and some had entered the wings. There was general unrest with prisoners carrying rods and other weapons. Forcing himself in with great difficulty, he observed Leo de Silva trying to control the mob. The passages leading to the cells of B3 and D3 were jammed with prisoners, and prisoners with weapons were trying to assault persons on the ground. Jansz tried using physical force to prevent the attack, but was helpless.
Jansz observed army personnel standing in the lobby who appeared to be helpless in the situation[CDN]. According to [Mag], They [the army personnel] were also helpless and could not do anything.
Realising that nothing could be done, Jansz got into his car, and went to the Borella police station to seek assistance. He learnt from the inspectors he met that they were not in a position to give any immediate help because they lacked manpower. He then went to Senior DIG Police, Suntheralingam, who lived close to him in Gregorys Road to see if 'at least he could help him under the circumstances. "It was clear that he (Suntheralingam) was helpless at the moment because he was on his way to attend what witness (Jansz) believed was a Security Council meeting." Suntheralingam undertook to take all possible steps and also mention the matter at the Security Council meeting. Jansz went back to the Borella Police and was told that a police party had gone to the prison. (It is not clear from the inquest record if Suntheralingam had anything to do with this change of mind on the part of the Borella Police.) Going back to the prison, Jansz saw the police party standing outside.
The Police, Jansz said were reluctant to enter as it (the prison) was guarded by army personnel.
According to Lt. Mahinda Hathurusinghe of the 4th Artillery who was in charge of the platoon guarding the prison, he occupied a billet with 15 other soldiers; 5 soldiers were in a guard room at the prison entrance, 11 in a guard room 200 yards from his billet and there were also soldiers on mobile duty. In the afternoon of 25th July, he received a message from the soldiers at the main entrance that a riot had broken out inside the prison and that the Commissioner of Prisons had called for army assistance with a view to controlling the mob. He went into the prison with seven soldiers all of whom forced themselves into the Chapel Section through the crowd that was blocking it. His next statement contradicted what both Leo de Silva said and Jansz had said. According to Lt. Hathurusinghe:
"The crowd upon seeing us dropped their weapons and started running upstairs."
According to de Silva and Jansz however the soldiers appeared to be helpless in controlling the mob.
What is clear is that the soldiers came armed and did nothing. According to a survivor interviewed by SW, the soldiers had SLRs (Self Loading Rifles). Jansz recently confirmed to us that this had been the case, but suggested that the officer who later had told him that what transpired was a dirty thing to do, may have been helpless. They had not fired a single shot.
Moreover from Janszs own testimony, he left the melee, got into his car and went to the Borella Police, to DIG Suntheralingam and back to the Borella Police, and then to Welikade Prison, only because the Army and prison staff were not being at all helpful. He was desperately trying to find someone to help him, as though it were not their duty. Even a senior Tamil DIG appeared to be helpless. When he got back to the prison, a police party had come, but the Army refused to let them in. SW points out that the Army had no right to do this because the Prisons Ordinance stipulates that the Prisons ought to call in the Police when there is sign of trouble.
From this point the testimonies in the Magistrates inquest record become so muddled up that the reader is bound to pass them over thinking that the main drama was over. SWs painstaking work becomes invaluable in straightening out the events here and would undoubtedly form an illuminating part of her book.
In Leo de Silvas testimony, there are some inexplicable gaps. He said that neither he, Jansz, the Army nor the prisoners trying to help, could between them muster the force to enter the wings and relieve the Tamil prisoners being attacked. (As for the prison staff, Jansz told us recently that they were not doing anything constructive!) From this point Leo de Silva jumped to, After a few minutes I observed the prisoners moving to the upper section of the building. Jansz remained with me in the lobby. Considering that Jansz had gone out, we will see that there is more than one gap here.
His answers to questions from the Magistrate shed further light. Asked what steps he took to bring the situation under control, L de S replied, After some time the situation was under control, some prisoners were walking about the lobby. I managed to bring the bodies to the lobby. At that stage, I did not observe army personnel. It appeared to me that all the inmates of B3 and D3 were battered. Medical officers were summoned IMMEDIATELY (our emphasis). AFTER SOME TIME (our emphasis), it was apparent to us that all those inmates were dead. The medical officer pronounced them dead."
Leo de Silvas answer suggests that no steps were taken to bring the situation under control. The violence just petered out. The dead and injured were brought out, the prison doctor and medical staff were summoned immediately. During this process, Jansz who was not present earlier had arrived, while the Army had left. Note that it was after some time that all were pronounced dead. This suggests that for some reason the prison doctor had examined them twice.
According Lt. Hathurusinghe, "the injured persons were brought and kept in the main lobby by the prison officers with the help of some prison staff." This is an admission that he and his armed men were around until the riot petered out. He covered it up by saying that the crowd dispersed upon seeing them. Having said that the injured persons appeared to be dead, Hathurusinghe added, the prison doctor (Dr. Dan Perinpanayagam) had been sent for and arrangements were being made to send the INJURED PERSONS TO HOSPITAL (our emphasis). This means that Dr.Perinpanayagam or someone else found some of the victims to be injured, who could possibly have been saved by medical care.
Hathurusinghe in his testimony added immediately following the reference to the injured above: But it soon became apparent that all were dead. Dr. Perinpanayagam stated that they were all dead.
Janszs testimony throws some sinister light on what really happened. Having returned to the lobby after failing to get help, and the police party prevented by the Army from entering, he found some bodies heaped up and other bodies being brought out. Jansz then issued orders for vehicles to CARRY THE INJURED TO THE ACCIDENT SERVICE of the General Hospital (our emphasis).
He then said, Having made arrangements to carry the injured to the Accident Service of the General Hospital I found that the Army personnel were of the view that we should seek permission from higher authorities to take the injured out of the prison premises.
Jansz was thus very clear that some of the prisoners attacked were not dead and needed urgent medical care. Upon being refused by the Army at the gate, Jansz used the telephone at the gate to contact the Major in charge of the unit, whose name we have not been able to find out. He was probably at Panagoda. The Major then informed him that that the permission for such a removal would have to be granted by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.
We have here a strange situation. If Jansz had to contact the Major, he had then been prevented by Lieutenant Hathurusinghe from removing the victims. In army terms, Janszs rank was something like a major general or senior brigadier, and as acting commissioner of prisons on several occasions since 1974, he clearly knew his duty. On the part of the Army it was a perverse interpretation of their task of guarding the prisoners to prevent those battered from getting medical treatment. The Lieutenant who would have been taught the Geneva Conventions should have known that giving medical care to injured enemy does not require reference to the top. Clearly, he would not have acted alone on such a cruel refusal that would be on record.
We may take it that Lt. Hathurusinghe upon leaving the lobby of the Chapel Section told his superiors of the situation and of the injured, as he was bound to, and was instructed not to allow the injured to be taken out. After all it would have been much easier and more appropriate for those at Army HQ to get clearance from Secretary/Defence, than for Jansz.
In a crisis of this nature, it would have been the duty of field officers to keep the Army HQ informed. If the Army authorities would not allow Jansz to take the injured to hospital under prison security, they should have promptly taken them to the Army Hospital. If they could not or did not want to do that, they had no business to stop Jansz.
An even greater irony is that President Jayewardene was then at Army HQ. On the testimony of Bradman Weerakoon, Jayewardene was in the Army Commanders room when he was informed of the prison massacre and 'was deeply upset.' Moreover, DIG Suntheralingam had told Jansz a little earlier that he was going to a Security Council meeting. Such meetings, it turns out, were then, during the crisis, held in Army HQ. This means that Secretary/Defence, Colonel Dharmapala, too was almost certainly there. It is probable that Jayewardene had heard of the massacre before Suntheralingam raised it at the Security Council, which would have been about when Jansz was trying to get permission to take the injured out. We have confirmed from a police official present that the Security Council, when it met that day, was 'very much aware' of the prison massacre.
A particular point needs clearing up. Jansz said that he had made the arrangements to take the injured to the Accident Service. He told us recently that he had gone to the General Hospital, met the Hospital Director Dr. Lucian Jayasuriya, and made arrangements to admit the injured. He also admitted that it was such a traumatic experience, that, after 16 years, his memory has rejected a good deal that was unpleasant. In the circumstances it would appear that he had gone to Dr. Jayasuriya after ordering the vehicles to take the injured, and had got back to accompany them when he was stopped. It gives the picture of a man hopelessly, painstakingly, and yet passively, begging for help, as it were, battling against a system that was primed to defeat him at every turn.
Jansz evidently tried ringing desperately and either did not get through, or was not put through to those at the top, all of whom were presumably at Army HQ. Jansz did however get through to DIG Ernest Perera at Police HQ, who would have been his contemporary in the University of Ceylon, where Jansz earned a degree in Veterinary Science. Perera suggested that he come over, presumably because he may have better luck getting through from his office. There were probably reasons why he did not want to intervene personally, as grave and urgent as the matter was. This would have saved time and lives.
Jansz went to Police HQ with Leo de Silva, leaving the two ASPs in charge at Welikade Leos two assistants who on his testimony had run out with him to the Chapel Section. He got through to the Army Commander, Tissa Weeratunge, who had returned from Jaffna by that afternoon, and told him about the injured prisoners. According to [CDN], the Commanding Officer told him that he has no objection to the request and to communicate this to the army personnel at Welikade prison. But according to [Mag], Jansz requested Weeratunge to communicate his consent to the army personnel at the prison gate. It is likely that both happened. Janszs testimony makes all this sound natural, but it is very unnatural. Weeratunge already knew what had happened through several channels. One would have expected more concern from him about how men under his command had behaved. But he too, like Ernest Perera, wanted to keep out of it. We also further learnt that at the Police HQ Jansz also met IGP Rudra Rajasingham and DIG Suntheralingam just after their return from the Security Council meeting where the massacre had been discussed. The Army Commander is thus without excuse.
On getting back, Jansz and Leo de Silva saw a truck parked in the compound and were given to understand that 35 bodies in the truck were heaped for removal. There was no more talk about taking the injured to the Accident Service. Jansz was no doubt deeply disturbed. He told the inquest, "Dr. Perinpanayagam had arrived by then. The truck was taken to the passage near the main gate. The bodies in the truck were removed on stretchers to the room adjoining the passage. Dr. Perinpanayagam made his observations and I was informed that they were all dead."
Dr. Perinpanayagam lived on the premises and did not go anywhere that day. He was summoned after the violence had abated. This means that he was examining them at the gate after an hour or more had elapsed, after Jansz and Leo returned. These grave disparities could have been dismissed as surmise and speculation without much value, arising from the testimony of confused witnesses, if not for Suriya Wickremasinghes work in filling the gaps.
SW says in her notes: we know from eyewitnesses, and which appears likely from the inquest evidence, that the bodies were attacked again on the floor of the lobby to make sure they were dead. They were dragged into the compound and attacked there. They were thrown into the truck, and according to some eyewitness accounts, the sound of bodies being attacked even inside the truck could be heard. Indeed according to one of our witnesses, one young prisoner [Kanapathipillai Mylvaganam, 19 years, 5 ft 1 in] who had succeeded in hiding, was actually killed in the compound by a jailor.
On the matter of Jansz having the bodies taken out on stretchers and examined, SW says: There would have been no need to do this had Dr. Perinpanayagam already examined them and declared them dead. If Dr. Perinpanayagam had not done so, nobody had any business to heap them into a truck. Who permitted this to be done?
Although Janszs memory is now a little hazy, he did say that the injured had been attacked and killed. SW's reconstruction puts that in place. That prison staff were involved in such an attack was told to us by a Tamil detainee in H Ward, who was told this by Sinhalese prisoners who were outside watching. Jansz also said that some prison staff were involved in the instigation. Two very faithful jailors, he said, had used their revolvers and had injured about 5 attackers. These jailors, he added, could not, for the fear of being attacked, come to work for some time afterwards.
Indeed, the fact that the injured prisoners were attacked before being heaped into the truck of which Jansz had a hazy recollection and which is established in Suriya Wickremasinghe's investigations and other testimony, is confirmed from a different context.
Although it had been said at the inquest that the 'medical officers' and the 'prison doctor' were summoned immediately, we reliably learn that Dr. Perinpanayagam did not get to the scene until about 5.30 or 6.00 PM. This is also suggested by Jansz saying, 'Dr. Perinpanayagam had arrived by then.' This was after his return from Police HQ. There were two doctors in the prison quarters. The other was Dr. de Alwis. The sounds and reports of violence had made such an impression that de Alwis thought it dangerous and advised against going. If any medical officer had seen the injured earlier, it may have been Mr. Somaratne, the male nurse. As a veterinarian, Jansz too would have been amply competent.
Dr. Perinpanayagam, a Tamil, arrived after the bodies were loaded into the truck and were about to be taken out. He had them taken down, and he spent over 3 to 4 hours examining them, and found them all to be dead. During this examination ASP Danny Munaweera and some other prison staff were present. It turned out that the bodies of Kuttimani and Jegan were at the bottom of the pile of the bodies in the truck.
While the examinations were going on, one of the officers present observed firmly, that some of those whose bodies were taken out of the truck, had been breathing before being loaded into it. The implication was that they had died of suffocation. This was a remarkable revelation from someone who was upset by what had happened. It was moreover made while a responsible officer, an ASP, was present, who should have been answerable for why living persons were piled up in this manner.
It is clear that the ASPs had witnessed something very disturbing and had not been in control of the situation while even some jailors were setting the lead in attacking injured prisoners. No doubt, it was from the ASPs that Jansz had learnt of this attack.
The inquest had thus failed to ask the questions that were staring in the face, and so failed to reveal what was most disturbing. For example, neither the Magistrate nor the two senior lawyers from the Attorney Generals department who were leading the evidence tried to resolve the glaring discrepancies in the testimony about the Armys role.
There was something else very disturbing, which most readers of the inquest proceedings would have missed, but has been pointed out by Suriya Wickremasinghe. The hierarchy in the prison service was as follows:
Commissioner of Prisons - Mr. J.P. Delgoda (on overseas leave)
Deputy Commissioner - Mr. C.T. Jansz (acting for Commissioner)
HQ Superintendent (all Island) - Mr. H.G. Dharmadasa (acting for Deputy Commissioner; had just returned from overseas and had gone home to Nugegoda early on the 25th July, not present during incident.)
Superintendent of Prisons, Welikade - Mr. A. Leo de Silva
Two Assistant Superintendents, Welikade - Mr. Danny Munaweera
Chief Jailor - Mr. W.M. Karunaratne
Jailors Class I - Generally if not always university graduates
Jailors Class II - Similar to Inspector or ASP in Police
Overseers - Similar to sergeant in the Police
Senior Jail Guards
Jail Guards - Similar to police constable
There were about 17 jailors then in Welikade prison. SW observes: No jailor testified at the inquest. This is a most remarkable omission. We know from our other sources, that there was always one, usually two, jailors in the Chapel Section. The jailor on duty in the area concerned would appear to be the person on the spot responsible for discipline. He should be able to say how the riot started. Instead we are treated to the evidence of highups [who arrived much later]....and to lowly jail guards (whose educational level is not high) and who do not play any sort of supervisory role.
Who were the jailors in the Chapel Wing? There appears to be a conspiracy to pretend that jailors just dont exist. The SP (Leo de Silva) describes in detail the security arrangements, how many jail guards in each wing etc but never mentions the presence of a jailor.
As suggested earlier, it is what happened after the main violence was over, which was also obscured in the testimony, that is most disturbing. The first part could have on the surface been passed off as a spontaneous riot: At 2.00 P.M. hundreds of prisoners had rushed from upstairs and perhaps from outside with wooden poles, clubs, spikes, improvised knives of the kind kept by prisoners and iron bars pulled out from the gallery railings, apparently smashed open the wooden doors with metal frames leading to B3 and D3, either forced open or opened cells using the keys from the jail guards, and attacked the prisoners.
Indeed there are awkward questions: How it started is unclear. If prisoners were allowed to take and store some of these weapons upstairs, then there has been a serious lapse. Only one lowly jail guard who was locked inside B3 has testified. The two jail guards in the lobby who were supposed to be holding the keys to the wings were not called upon to testify, nor were jailors who have an office in the lobby itself. If they were all absent, as they should not have been, they should have been called and the reasons for their absence recorded. This is an inexplicable, if not deliberate, omission on the part of the Magistrate and the AGs department lawyers leading the evidence. We reliably understand that Leo de Silva had complained strongly in private, that some of the important things he had said were left out by the Magistrate.
There are also serious questions about whether it was a riot at all. A riot implies or entails defiance of forces of order and a struggle by the latter at restoring order. A jail guard in B3 testified that he had been locked up in a cell before his charges were bashed. Leo de Silva had been carried out when he tried to enter B3. But not one member of the prison staff had complained of any medically confirmable hurt or injury. Jansz told us something interesting. When he tried to intervene, he was not bodily resisted. He was surrounded by prisoners at more than arm's length swinging something in the air, but he was allowed to go out. The prison staff were, in his words, 'not doing anything constructive'. It was an ordered or controlled riot - one of a kind not expected from irate criminals acting by themselves.
It is what happened after Jansz wanted to take the injured to the Accident Service that vividly points to complicity from a broad spectrum of the State: The Lieutenant on the spot prevented the injured from being taken out. He was almost certainly acting on instructions from Army HQ who certainly knew about it. Jansz was required to get permission from a member of the Security Council, which was then by all indications meeting at Army HQ and had been told about it. It looks as though Jansz was purposely made, or allowed, to run around in circles.
During the absence of Jansz and Leo de Silva the injured prisoners were attacked by the prison staff and others under their supervision, by which time the riot had petered out. At least two jailors have been named in a later EPRLF document. Why did Leo de Silva's two assistants (ASPs), who were in charge at this time when Leo was out - who again were not summoned to testify at the inquest - remain passive then and thereafter? It was as though the powers that be - the country's leaders - wanted it to happen.
We also received testimony from a member of the prison staff present that shortly after the riot had begun at 2.00 P.M., an Air Force helicopter arrived and was stationary over the prison for 10 to 15 minutes. By contrast it was noted in the last chapter that helicopter patrols were singularly absent when the City was being attacked in the morning. A curfew had also come into force at 2.00 P.M.
Two persons had entered the passage of C3 by breaking the wooden floor upstairs. But by that time things had petered out and they left peacefully. The convicted criminals in A3 apparently remained locked up during the riot. The prison staff as well as the surviving Tamil prisoners failed to identify a single assailant. Fear?
The Magistrate entered a verdict of homicide, from a 'general state of unrest' among 800 prisoners housed upstairs in the Chapel Section, 'which had ended up as a riot'. He further concluded that, "None of the prison officers or the army officers summoned thereafter could have done anything under the circumstances to prevent the attack. They have [sic] all been completely overpowered."[Top]
The Emergency Regulations, the latest of which were gazetted a week before the violence, on the 18th of July, provided for the disposal of bodies without inquest. The circumstances of the inquest tell us something about the atmosphere. One factor that may have prompted the inquest is very likely that Jansz's attempts to take the injured to the Accident Service had resulted in the bodies ending up in the Medico-Legal Mortuary. It is notable that the Army had been initially obstructing steps which, whether the victims were dead or injured, would have led to commencing a formal legal process with the Police having to record statements. Once in the mortuary it became awkward to dispose of the bodies under ERs without an inquest.
According to Jansz, it was Mr. Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary/Justice, who persuaded the powers that be that it was best to have an inquest. However, there was much confusion around. Mr. Keerthi Srilal Wijewardene, a bachelor of age about 41 years, was then Chief Magistrate, Colombo. As he records, Wijesinghe and Mr. H.G. Dharmadasa, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Prisons, informed him orally of the prison deaths and 'requested' him to hold an inquest.
Back in the Medico-Legal Morgue the 35 bodies had been laid out and policemen and jail guards were talking confusedly. The JMO, Dr. M.S.L. Salgado, asked the Police for the magistrate's order to perform the post-mortem examinations. The Police tried to avoid the issue. Since the Magistrate's telephone was not working then, Salgado went to his residence in Havelock Town and told him that he wanted such an order. While Salgado was in a hurry, Mr. Wijewardene seemed oblivious to what was going on in the world and particularly in the City. He asked Salgado to come in and have a cup of tea. This Salgado could not refuse. Further to his annoyance, Wijewardene asked his manservant to make sandwiches.
Wijewardene, a keen member of the Medico-Legal Society, started chatting about the problems of the young related to heroin abuse - something completely outside the immediate. He was in no hurry to face the present. Then Salgado reminded him that he wanted to go, and asked Wijewardene to accompany him. According to Wijewardene's record: "Though I informed him that I would accompany him to the JMO's office, I would not commence inquest proceedings unless and until the Police made an application seeking such an Inquest."
Subsequently at the JMO's office, OIC Borella and Mr. Hyde Silva (H.Y. de Silva), Detective Superintendent, Crimes, came to him with such an application. Then Wijewardene, still not sure of himself, a state of emergency prevailing, read Gazette Extraordinary No. 254/3 of 18th July 1983, to satisfy himself that a judicial inquest could be held under the circumstances. Having satisfied himself, he ordered the JMO to hold a post-mortem inquiry. But he had not finished with the JMO. He asked Salgado to accompany him to Welikade Prison. Salgado agreed to this unusual request. Salgado recalled, "I think he was scared."
This brings us to a startling absurdity in the law. Emergency Regulation 15A of the Gazette Extraordinary made by President Jayewardene under the Public Security Ordinance, allows any gazetted police officer (i.e. not below ASP rank) or any other authorised officer, with the approval of Secretary, Ministry of Defence, to arrange for taking possession and disposal of any dead body, without reference to any other legal provision. It allows an official to decide when murder is not murder, even in such a blatant instance as the prison massacre. Regarding this massacre the Government was anticipating, if not already being flooded with, expressions of concern from abroad. Groups in the US were already active with respect to the detainee Nirmala Nithiananthan who had her university education in the US. With the bodies already with the JMO, ER 15A had become a difficult proposition.
Then suddenly Secretary, Ministry of Justice (as distinct from Defence) popped up and wanted an inquest held. The Magistrate was naturally puzzled. Then the Police were waiting for the Magistrate and the Magistrate for the Police. The process of the law is deprived of its independence and impartiality when the executive is given the option of deciding when a crime is not a crime. When in an embarrassing affair the executive forgoes its option of outright suppression and requests a magistrate to hold an inquest, it comes with an unspoken, but self-evident, undertone to hush it up legally. Little wonder then that Magistrate Keerthi Srilal Wijewardene was an unhappy man.
Shortly after he arrived at the prison about 4.20 P.M. (26th), in came Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary, Justice, with Mr. Tilak Marapone, Deputy Solicitor General, and Mr. C.R. de Silva, Senior State Counsel, offering their assistance to this court', as recorded by Wijewardene. It was hardly the kind of assistance to be rejected. We know how they led the evidence. Why were the counsels who were representing the victims and survivors not called? An Amnesty International statement a few days after the massacres in September '83 stated: The lawyers of the Tamil detainees are reported to have claimed that they were not allowed to bring evidence at the inquest proceedings which they allege would have implied participation of some prison staff. We have had no independent confirmation of this so far. A lawyer who checked recently with C.R. de Silva, was told that if a lawyer representing the victims had applied to the AG, he would almost certainly have been allowed, but if he had simply come to the prison gate, he may have been turned off on grounds of security. It would have been a brave lawyer who would have tried under those condtions.
An incident during the inquest, which began in the evening and lasted through the night until the 27th morning, is revealing. The AJMO, Dr. Salgados assistant, a Tamil, Dr. Balachandra, was taking photographs of the bodies during the post-mortem examinations as was normal. There was alarm among the minor staff that a Tamil was taking photographs for use as propaganda. A jail guard came in alarm and informed DSG Tilak Marapone about it. Marapone telephoned Dr. Salgado from the prison to find out what was going on. Salgado assured him that the camera and film were his, and, it was he who had asked Balachandra to photograph the bodies. The proper thing was for Marapone to have informed the Presiding Magistrate if he thought something objectionable was going on. Such overbearing conduct by the Attorney Generals department men to the cost of the judiciary is now endemic to our system.
Again, everyone knew that the Tamil survivors were in no position to testify. Putting together what different survivors all those in C3 had seen, it was clear to them that some influential jailors were involved. One prisoner, Kandiah Rajendran (alias Robert), who was in a cell nearest to the passage entrance had witnessed what was going on in the lobby and had given a running commentary. He was killed in the second massacre. The accounts gathered by Suriya Wickremasinghe are largely based on Rajendrans running commentary.
The survivors knew that Leo de Silva and Jansz had no part in what had happened, but also had no illusions about their ability to protect them. It is interesting that these survivors in C3 decided to seek an interview with Leo de Silva and ask him to unlock the cells and let them stay together in the passage. They had rightly discerned that they were more vulnerable locked up in ones and threes a fact made clear in the second act of the drama. This request, if made, was not granted. That same night (25th), the Sinhalese radio news which spoke about the massacre was heard clearly by the C3 detainees from the jailors room nearby. They thought it was deliberate. No one testified at the inquest giving any names. The Magistrate observed, None of those prisoners who could be eye witnesses... have volunteered to give evidence...
At 3.00 P.M. in the afternoon of the 26th, Panagoda Mahesweran, Paranthan Rajan and Douglas Devananda went as representatives to meet Leo de Silva. At 1.00 A.M. on the 27th, the 28 detainees were woken up and taken to the Youthful Offenders Building (See diagram).These detainees were housed in 9 of the 10 cells on the ground floor, 3 each in 8 cells and 4 in one cell. The 9 detainees, i.e. the professionals (Dr. Tharmalingam, Dr. Rajasunderam et. al.), who were in those cells were sent to the dormitory upstairs. This was done before the inquest was concluded.
With all the 35 post-mortem reports in, the inquest proceedings were concluded by Magistrate Wijewardene in the early hours of the 27th morning. He issued a formal order to the Borella Police to pursue investigations and produce any suspects before him. Then came more anomalies in the Law. The Magistrate conducting the inquest should normally have handed over the bodies to the next of kin. That had become awkward or difficult. At this point, Detective Superintendent Hyde Silva applied for possession of the bodies for disposal, under section 15A of the Gazette Extraordinary of 18th July 1983. Deputy Solicitor General Mr. Marapone, presumably representing the Attorney General, stated that he had no objection to the request. Magistrate Wijewardene perused the Gazette and agreed that it should be allowed in law. The relevant section however reserves such authorisation for Secretary, Defence, and not the Attorney General! How laws change according to need! When it came to taking badly injured prisoners to hospital, it was prevented by dubiously bringing clearance from Secretary, Defence.
Shortly before dawn, the bodies were taken in a prison truck wrapped in white sheets to the Kanatte Cemetery, where a huge pit had been dug. The bodies were thrown onto the ground by the prisoners assisting the authorities. There was dead silence, in sharp contrast to the two tumultuous days that preceded it. Not a soul was about. Dr. Salgado, driving home after a tiring night of post-mortems, stopped by to have a final look at those whose remains had passed through his hands. A police inspector asked an army officer and soldiers who were standing by to help them by fetching more logs. A highly offended army officer protested that they were there only to give them security. The funny part was lost amidst tempers being frayed. In the circumstances, it was as though the army officer was referring to security against ghosts. DSP Hyde Silva quickly stepped in to settle the quarrel.
The flames from the pyre leapt up against the glimmering dawn, as the dead were turned to ashes. However, unknown to the army officer, those above him, and the highest in authority, the ghosts of these victims were to haunt this land for a generation and more, denying it any prospect of peace. Dr. Salgado driving home heavy with sleep was in for another strange encounter. On a lonely road, a policeman stepped out of the shadows and stopped him for driving on the wrong side! The tribe that was conspicuously off the streets during the mayhem of the preceding days seemed not totally out of business.[Top]
C.T. (Cutty) Jansz and his leading officials had an unenviable problem on their hands. They could maintain order in the prison only through jailors and jail guards. They knew that some politically influential jailors were behind the massacre on the 25th. Having transferred the survivors to the YOB, they could only hope for the best. To whom could they go for help, to the Government?, to the Army?, the Police?. The events of the 25th had taught them that the prisoners were in a vicious environment where everything was against them. Had Jansz been a tougher nut who could arm-twist his jailors, the Army and the Government by threatening to make things awkward for them, these events may have been avoided, or at least limited. But there he was, asking if they could at least help him as though it had nothing to do with them. Even those who perhaps would like to have helped, sensing what the Government wanted, tried to avoid the issue.
Senior DIG Suntharalingam who had been a confident law enforcer six weeks earlier, was apparently helpless because he was then going to a Security Council meeting! The deterioration of state culture had gone too far down the road where it had become very difficult to find someone in authority who would in a crisis tell another, You jolly well do the right thing or, whatever happens to me, I will tell the world about it!
The one thing going in favour of the survivors was the expressions of concern from around the world. This, the Government had to respond to. Jansz was summoned to the Security Council meeting at Army HQ, Slave Island, in the afternoon of the 27th. It turns out from Janszs testimony at the 2nd inquest that he had on the same morning informed Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary, Justice, that he feared a second attack on the prisoners. Jansz found Jayewardene 'concerned' about the fate of the surviving Tamil detainees. Jayewardene also had a sympathetic word of concern for Jansz. He told him, You must be tired after all that you have been through, and called for Jansz to be served with a glass of orange juice.
Evidently, there had been many messages of concern, especially regarding Nirmala Nithiananthan. Jayewardene accepted that it was not safe for the survivors to be in Colombo. A council member objected to the suggestion to fly them to Jaffna prison on the grounds that they would escape. Jayewardene settled the matter by saying that their safety was the first priority and decided that the survivors should be flown to Jaffna. (There was later a change in plan and the prisoners were flown to Batticaloa. This may have resulted from objections raised about possible escape.) Jansz was asked to liaise with Brigadier Mano Madawela, his school-mate, regarding the arrangements for the flight. Jayewardene was a "cultured man" who was decent before the decent. Madawela also agreed to Janszs request to keep a squad of soldiers always ready, should they be needed to quell another riot. Barely had Jansz returned to his office when he was told, about 4.15 PM, of a second prison attack. 18 Tamil suspects were killed.
Again Mervyn Wijesinghe had gone to Magistrate Wijewardenes residence at 7.30 AM on the 28th and asked him to hold an inquest. Hearings commenced in the office of the Superintendent of Prisons at 1.30 PM. The evidence was again led by DSG Tilak Marapone and Senior State Counsel C.R. de Silva, assisted by ASP Pakeer, CDB. Also present were Mervyn Wijesinghe, Theodore Jansz and Leo de Silva. The inquest ended just after mid-night, at 12.05 AM on 29th July. The gaps in the inquests and the grave unanswered questions were even more glaring than before. Once again, there were jailors on duty at the scene, who did not testify. Instead those who testified from the staff were Jansz and the Chief Jailor who came to the scene later, an overseer (similar to police sergeant), a vocational instructor and three jail guards.
The Chief Jailor, Mr. W.M. Karunaratne, had testified that through the prison intelligence system he had learnt of unrest among the prison population, and of a plan for a mass jail break and an attack on Tamil prisoners and that he had communicated this to Jansz in the morning. (He referred to PTA detainees as terrorist prisoners, while Jansz as terrorist suspects and Leo de Silva in the earlier inquest as suspects under the PTA.) Jansz confirmed in his testimony that he had been told this by Karunaratne and had verified it through his own inquiries. He in turn had made representations to the Government through Secretary, Ministry of Justice, from which followed moves to expedite the transfer of the prisoners. He had been clear, he said, that the accommodation of the 28 survivors from C3, Chapel Section, in the YOB, was only a temporary move at the direction of the Chief Magistrate, and that he had that same day arranged for air force planes to fly them out.
When reminded of this recently, Jansz expressed surprise as to why Karunaratne had told him, while it was to Leo de Silva that he should have reported. A possible answer appeared in the record of Karunaratne's testimony. He said at the beginning that the Superintendent of Prisons (Leo), leaving out the Assistant Superintendents (ASPs), was his immediate superior. Later when describing the attack, he said: Up to this point to the best of my recollection there were no officers superior to me in office in the compound. As the most superior office available ".
The leading prison officials knew that there was a bad situation in prison from the 25th. On the 26th night, the Magistrate had made an order about the safety of prisoners and the Secretary, Justice, had made the new Youthful Offenders Building available for that purpose. It was a time when all the staff who could be trusted should have been asked to be available on the premises until the Tamil prisoners were transferred. The Secretary, Justice, should have demanded that reliable troops be stationed at the prison, or at least have got the Army Commander to tell the platoon at the prison, which the Commander on his own should have done after the first experience, that they must act firmly to maintain order in the event of a disturbance. None of these appears to have been done.
Even more seriously, curfew had come into force at 4.00 P.M. and Leo de Silva and his two ASPs who had run to the trouble spot on the 25th, were apparently not available when trouble broke out sometime between 4.00 and 4.15 P.M. on the 27th. Even if they had taken turns to rest after breaking rest the previous night, they should have been about the premises. Leo de Silva was not an irresponsible man, and those who had worked with him have a high regard for him as a sportsman and a gentleman. It is also significant that the inquest aided by three competent legal minds failed to address this glaring issue
One is driven to suspect that there was something very loose about the place, which the top officials knew from their first experience. There was a surface of normality, and the prison routine was going on. But in reality, a section of the staff with political patronage appear to have taken over. From this vantage point, what took place at the inquest, with some very tall stories given as testimony, falls into place.
What follows is the story one gets from the inquest proceedings. The Overseer Don Alfred (51) began serving the night meal to the prisoners on the ground floor of the Chapel Section at 4.00 P.M. By then C3 and D3 were empty. Dinner was first served to those at the back, behind the wooden partition, who were the ones remaining in B3. At this time, the door to the lobby entrance was locked, and that key, along with the keys to the wings, was held in a bunch by Don Alfred. The food was taken to the entrance of A3, which housed condemned criminals, escapees and those considered dangerous. A jailor who was supervising was standing by. The normal procedure, according to Alfred, when serving high security prisoners on the ground floor, was for him to unlock the passage entrance after the food was brought, and leave it ajar. Inside, he said, the prisoners were free to move about in the passage, with the jail guards, for it was mainly during the night that they were locked up inside their cells. Then the jail guards would send them out five at a time to get their food, the next five coming out after the earlier five were inside.
On this occasion, according to Don Alfred, the inmates of A3 who were earlier looking normal, rushed out, grabbed him, took his keys, assaulted the jailor, and threw away the telephone. They then instigated the 800 prisoners upstairs to join them, opened the lobby gate and rushed out. [The jailor responsible for discipline, who was supposedly assaulted, did not testify!]
According to the Vocational Instructor M.E. Thillekeratne (37), some prisoners ran about 25 yards to the wood shed, apparently broke open the cupboards, and helped themselves to poles, axes and a saw. (The post-mortem reports suggest that they had acquired some long-bladed sharp instruments.) From the wood shed, they ran about 50 yards eastwards to the YOB, with a large unarmed crowd following them.
The YOB was in a compound surrounded by a six-foot high wall, with a gate directly opposite the main entrance, and a side entrance to the YOB was barricaded with tin sheets. Don Nicholas (25) was on this occasion the jail guard on duty inside the gate controlling the entry and exit of persons. He retained on his person the keys to the main entrance of the YOB, to the passage leading to the cells on the ground floor, to the cells and to the gate of the dormitory upstairs where the 9 professionals were held. With Don Nicholas were three jail guards in the compound and the supervising jailor. Two jail guards were locked into the passage with the cells and one in the lobby for those upstairs. Note that according to Don Nicholas, unlike in the Chapel Section, the jail guards locked inside did not have the keys to the cells. But this appears to be strange, as prisoners have to call the guards locked inside to open their cell to attend to a call of nature. Does this mean that additional precautions were being taken as though to prevent these traumatised prisoners from escaping? Escape where?
According to Nicholas, the armed prisoners came in by jumping over the wall and by breaking through the barricaded entrance. In all, there were 200300 within the compound. The prison staff in the compound were overpowered, the keys were taken from him and the entrance to the YOB was unlocked. The crowd poured in. Others went upstairs and hammered at the dormitory gate.
As soon as Jansz had heard of the second outbreak, he telephoned Army HQ, as arranged earlier with Brigadier Madawela. President Jayewardene, who was with the Army Commander, asked Major Sunil Peiris, a pioneer commando in the Army, if he could handle the matter. Major Peiris left promptly in two jeeps with 12 other commandos. Assuming a 5 minute delay in Jansz phoning Army HQ, a further 5 minutes and 7 minutes to drive the 4 miles, it would have taken Peiris a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes to reach the trouble spot.
As though to explain the tragedy, the Chief Jailor was at pains to describe the precautions he took to prevent the jail break. In the morning he had asked the commander of the army platoon to strengthen the guard outside the prison walls and claims to have posted armed jail guards at the gate. It may be noted that the purpose of the army platoon was to guard the Tamil PTA detainees, a half of whom had already been killed and not the normal prisoners. Although he claimed to have received information of a plan to attack the Tamil detainees besides an attempted jail-break, the only precautions he described concerned the latter. This observation was made in her notes by Suriya Wickremasinghe, through a reading of the Chief Jailors testimony. His priority, she observed, appears to be prevent jail break first, protect life second." This, after the terrible events of the 25th.
We will now see what he further said. On hearing the whistle blasts, he rushed out of his office to the main gate, ordered the sounding of alarm sirens and gongs. He saw 300 400 prisoners running from the Chapel Section to the YOB, scaling the wall of the YOB compound and breaking through the barricaded entrance, and he got the distinct impression that some of them were attempting a mass jail break'! The wall behind the YOB leads not to the outside, but to the remand section of the prison compound on the eastern side! He then said, As the most superior officer available at that time, I took immediate steps to prevent a mass jail break. He deployed all the officials available 'to various points, others within boundary walls, some armed officers positioned outside the boundary wall with arms, made sure that all exit points were with armed personnel and tried to get other officers to enter the enclosed compound housing the YOB.
He had done all this from the main entrance from which he called the army platoon stationed there by telephone, asking them to come immediately with assistance to quell the attempted jail break and the riot within the prison. All this time he seems to have been oblivious to the most urgent threat that was manifest from what happened on the 25th and what he had seen going on around the YOB. He had kept on reminding the inquest that being the senior most person available (4th in the Welikade hierarchy) he had to take decisions on two conflicting priorities.
He then ran to the YOB, entered the compound through the broken barricade, and appealed to the crowd to get back. He heard the crowd inside banging the cell doors, threatening to kill the Tamils and to axe any officer who came. Then he said, "At that stage the armed prison officers whom I had stood in readiness for such an eventuality turned up." (Where were they till then and what were they doing? SW.) He ordered them to shoot warning shots into the sky' as he deemed customary. He then said that he made an announcement asking the crowd to disperse or face direct firing. This he said he did not have to do as the army commandos arrived within a minute or two of the warning shots. But the army platoon stationed at the prison never arrived!
The Chief Jailor here spoke of armed prison officers turning up at his side, who were not with him when he ran to the YOB. Earlier he had given the impression that all armed officers had either been posted outside the prison or at exit points to prevent a jail break.
As to what was happening to the Tamil detainees, we quote from a survivors account published in the Tamil monthly Amuthu of July 1999: In view of the earlier discussion among ourselves, on the 27th we requested the authorities to allow us together inside the passage, as was usual during daytime. This was refused. [Note that Leo de Silva with whom their representatives had spoken was not questioned at the inquest. Note also that despite the warning from prison intelligence, even the dangerous prisoners in A3 were by contrast allowed free in the passage to escape and attack the Tamils, while the latter were locked up in the cells.]
We prepared ourselves by storing up gravy and curries to be thrown on the faces of attackers. [Others questioned by SW had also spoken of preparing small weapons with tins and plates.] In the afternoon we heard a crowd approaching us with the same kind of banging noises as on the 25th. I put my face to the cell bars and peeped. I identified the person leading the mob as Sepala Ekanayake, the plane hijacker. I saw another who came with him having a bunch of keys. [They had come in by opening the main door and the passage door.] Our cells did not have locks that had to be opened with a master key such as in the Parade (Chapel), but had padlocks.
Those who came into the passage with axes, long jungle knives, pounding poles, rice ladles and iron bars tried to open our lock. In the excitement, Thurairajah who was in our cell threw all the curries in one go. As the result, we could not ward them off from breaking the cell lock for a long time. The three of us looped the bed sheets around the cell bars and pulled to delay their opening the door. Once they cut the bed sheet, we held the door with our hands. Our hands were hammered and we could do no more.
The attackers who came into our cell rained blows on Thurairajah. I saw him drop dead with knife cuts. I hammered out at the two assailants in front of me. One swung an axe at me. Though I parried it with my hand, I received a cut on my head. Despite the pain I held an assailant in front of me as a shield with one hand in a vice-like grip and wedged myself into a corner. With my remaining hand and a leg I hit out at those who tried to get me. While I once kicked out, a huge blow fell on my leg, and the leg could no longer support me. As soon as I fell down blows rained on me in quick succession. I stopped resisting and feigned death.
Suddenly the blows stopped, and the attackers started running away. Then I saw soldiers with gas masks moving in. I thought to myself that I should not lose consciousness. I heard some Tamil voices and movement. I spoke out, I am alive, save me!". Douglas Devananda came to me, and behind him, Manikkadasan, Alagiri, Subramaniam and Farook."
While the attack was going on downstairs, the upstairs dormitory door padlock had been opened or broken. In the meantime hearing the commotion, most of the nine prisoners prepared themselves with bits of furniture and the legs of a table. From a letter written by one of the survivors, Dr. Rajasundaram went to the entrance to talk with the attackers, appealing to their humanity. Someone took Rajasundaram by a hand, pulled him out, and he was slain. His companions immediately rushed to the entrance and using the objects in their hands, prevented the attackers from coming in. Effectively six of them were involved in this task. Dr. Tharmalingam, a septuagenarian, stood behind but played a central role in the defence by constantly encouraging his companions and shouting warnings. The defenders, few in number, occasionally fell down, either physically exhausted or when a blow found its mark. But with Dr. Tharmalingam's urging they got up and sprang into the breach. Tharmalingam told SW in England many years later with considerable amusement, that the remaining member of their group had removed himself to a side and was praying.
This experience demonstrated the point of the survivors from C3, Chapel Section, who wanted to be allowed together in the passage, where the 28 of them had a fighting chance of defending one entrance, rather than being picked off in their cells. Among those upstairs, all survived except for Rajasundaram. The attackers stopped and ran as the commandos entered.
We now continue with the testimony of the victim downstairs.
"They (Douglas Devenanda and ...) carried me out and placed me in the front (visitors) lobby, just inside the main gate of the building. On the way, I saw the dead body of Dr. Rajasundaram, and the body of Mariampillai (50) whose head had been crushed. Where I was placed, I saw Thevakumar next to me unconscious. (He died later in hospital.) The SP came there and I told him that I was losing blood. He asked me if I could walk and I impulsively said 'yes'.
"Some prisoners employed by the authorities in manual work ('loyal' prisoners) who were carrying the corpses and heard me speaking, talked of taking me to a room and silencing me for good. Understanding what was said in Sinhalese, I shouted, "Sir, Sir". An army officer came there and I told him, "They will kill me here, take me to hospital". Thevakumar and I were taken to the hospital in a truck.
"At the Colombo Hospital, the doctor asked for me to be X-rayed. But because of a staff shortage I was simply left there. People came to look at me out of curiosity. Some called me a Kotiya (Tiger) and some spat upon me. A nurse came near me. I held her hand and told her in Sinhalese, "You must save me!" She came with a bottle of saline, but there was no stand to hold it. I held the bottle up. Another nurse came and pulled away the bottle and tube. The first nurse scolded her and reconnected the saline. We were then taken to a women's ward and a lady doctor stitched me up. We were then taken to a men's ward. Thevakumar had not regained consciousness and was making an unusual noise. We were chained to our bed by one of our legs. I later learnt that Thevakumar had died. On the following day, the Magistrate recorded my testimony.
The name of this witness transpires as Yogarajah in the inquest report. Suriya Wickremasinghe makes the observation: "Note how not a single prison officer is able to identify a rioter.... why are they not asked, whether they could perhaps identify some if an identification parade is held... Similarly, the Tamil survivors were not asked... Particularly shocking is the question put to Yogarajah by the Magistrate - "Other than for the fact that they were prisoners were you able to identify any single prisoner as being one known to you?" Naturally the answer was no..."
We now go back in time to when the Chief Jailor observed the army commandos coming in. On reaching Welikade prison, Major Peiris noticed army personnel placed at the outer perimeter of the prison wall and armed jail guards at exit points. He told the Court, "I did not notice any prisoners attempting to break out. Therefore I gathered that the attempted mass jail break had been contained before our arrival!" Noticing the commotion and warning shots at the YOB, Peiris and his men left their vehicles and ran there. What follows is an account of the commandos' actions not in the inquest report.
The first thing that caught Peiris' eye was Sepala Ekanayake, who faced the officer with an object in his hand, which horrified the officer. The officer immediately recognised Ekanayake, who being Sri Lanka's pioneer hijacker, had been built up into something of a folk hero in the Press. Ekanayake spoke to Peiris confident that the commandos, who were a part of the Army, were on his side. His words with reference to the object in his hand were: "Sir, komade vade?" ("Sir, what do you think of this job?"). Peiris, who was rushing towards the building with gun in one hand, used his other fist to give Ekanayake a blow on the face. Ekanayake found himself flat on the ground. This happened outside the boundary of the YOB. Having seen the behaviour of the soldiers on the 25th, Ekanayake probably thought that this group was also coming to cheer them. We note that Ekanayake had been the first to enter the YOB. This is meant that he had done his work there and had come out with something that he was proud to show off.
The commandos entered the YOB compound by either jumping over the wall or through the gap where the fence had been flattened. Peiris found the entrance to the YOB blocked by a large crowd. The commandos ploughed their way through the crowd firing into the air. At the entrance, a few prisoners armed with logs resisted the commandos. When the commandos tried to push them aside with their gun butts, one prisoner hit out at Peiris with a log. Peiris remembers firing at this man and saw him being carried away. At least one more prisoner was fired at.
Entering the YOB, Peiris found the attackers still at it. The commandos put on their tear gas masks and fired tear gas. As the attackers started dispersing, some commandos rushed into the passage on the ground floor while Peiris rushed up the staircase. Going upstairs, Peiris found the 8 survivors in the washroom washing their faces to relieve the irritation from tear gas.
Major Peiris' encounter with Ekanayake did not come out at the inquest. Under the prevailing circumstances, in addition to the manner in which the question was posed, Yogarajah too had not told the Magistrate about Ekanayake. All members of the prison staff who testified claimed at both inquests that they could not identify a single attacker. Surprisingly the question of an identification parade never arose. SW points out that in the second attack the survivors who were warding off their attackers saw them at close quarters for several minutes and could have identified them. When inmates of the Chapel Wing earlier, they had been familiar with those in A3 who led the attack. It was as though the legal minds guiding the inquest were determined not to have any names.
Even after the attackers were pushed out of the YOB, some were still in a militant mood while some had withdrawn. Those in a militant mood saw the arrival of the commandos as an aberration and were waiting to have another go. They were shouting each other's names to check if some had slunk away. Senior prison officers who were present, still fear to talk about it. One former commissioner admitted seeing Ekanayake at this stage. 17 of the 28 prisoners downstairs were killed. Only two of the nine cells with 6 prisoners in all remained unopened. One was killed upstairs. Whether one Sinhalese attacker was killed by the accidental blows of his fellows, remains the subject of rumour and speculation. (e.g. Wijitha Nakkawita , in Sunday Observer 25 July 99.) That such possibilities existed is suggested by the testimony in which a Tamil prisoner protected himself by using an attacker as a shield.
Major Peiris had seen an injured attacker shot by him being carried away. If he had died, it was not recorded. Had he survived, he had much to tell the inquest. This has been hushed up.
We now come to another one of the blatant absurdities of the inquest, where the Chief Jailor gave a very tall story to explain why the army personnel stationed at the prison had not come to his assistance, so leaving a huge burden on his shoulders. He said that just about the time he had telephoned the army platoon for assistance from the main gate, he saw smoke rising from the administrative block of the remand section (east of a dividing wall) of the prison. He claimed that he had been informed (by whom?) that remand prisoners had taken over the administrative points, having overpowered the officers on duty there. He added, "I was also informed that some of these prisoners in the remand prison had obtained possession of fire arms. I am now aware that in view of that situation some of the army personnel placed outside Welikade Prison had to go to the remand section to combat that situation. I am also aware that there had been an exchange of fire between those remand prisoners and the army personnel so that I had in that situation to make decisions..."
The army officer in charge at the prison himself was strangely not called upon to testify to this singular incident. No injuries were recorded, nor spent bullets produced. We have verified that the incident above is complete fiction. A former commissioner of prisons confirmed that it is difficult to remove the weapons that are kept secured and that not one weapon was removed by prisoners. A Tamil prisoner in 'H' ward told us however that in that confusion a smoking rag was thrown into the Tamil (Temple) Ward, which is situated at the back near the remand section.
SW points out that the Commissioner of Prisons (Mr. Delgoda) gave another explanation of the 'riot' in the remand section, in his Administration Report of 1983. He said that the riot in the Remand Prison was caused partly by the prisoners panicking when tear gas used to quell the Welikade Prison riots wafted into the Remand Prison.
On the basis of this explanation, the 'riot' in the remand section took place after the commandos arrived, and hence cannot provide an alibi for the army platoon at the prison, that did not lift a finger to protect those under attack. Indeed after the commandos arrived, it took a long time before the platoon commander, Lieutenant Seneviratne (initials either N or E), could be found. The Chief Jailor appears to give the game away with his 'I am now aware [why the local army platoon failed to come]' - aware a day later at the inquest? Perhaps the AG's department men leading the evidence who kept Lieutenant Seneviratne out and allowed the Chief Jailor's tall story to pass, could tell us something about the origins of the riot in the remand section.
Why the Chief Jailor who could have defended himself effectively by telling the truth - that Lieutenant Seneviratne did not come to his assistance - trotted out a ridiculous story to protect the army personnel and make his whole story implausible, remains to be explained. Was it that the Lieutenant was acting on orders from above and the AG's men were asked to cover it up? Why is it that armed jail guards with advance warning and preparation made no impact on the riot, while a handful of commandos brought it under control in next to no time? Again, Jansz and the commandos appear to have given priority to protecting life while the Chief Jailor to stopping a seemingly fictitious 'mass jail break'.
The Magistrate (Chief Magistrate, Colombo), entered a verdict of homicide as a result of a riot, in respect of the death of all 18 prisoners, and directed OIC Borella to conduct further investigations and report facts to the Magistrate, Colombo and produce suspects if any before the Chief Magistrate. He observed that none of the witnesses, including the survivors, are in a position to identify any of the attackers. 'Both the army personnel and the prison officers', he contended, 'had been hindered in the full utilisation of their forces to protect the victims of the attack by the intended mass jailbreak'.
The Magistrate went to great pains to give flesh to the attempted 'mass scale jail break'. He said: "However, prompt and efficient steps taken by the special unit of the Army under witness Major Peiris had effectively prevented the jail break referred to, and helped quell the mob which might otherwise have caused [even greater death]." Yet Peiris had very clearly told the inquest, "I did not notice any prisoners attempting to break out... I initially gathered that the mass scale jail break had been contained..." Peiris said recently, "I noticed a few fellows standing around the main entrance. They were not trying to escape." The Magistrate was thus eager to give Peiris credit for something, to which he made no claim.
On the subject of the jailbreak, a salient point was not lost on many of those who said very early that the two prison attacks had the connivance of the authorities. They pointed out that on both occasions the attacks took place just after curfew came into force - at 2.00 P.M. on the 25th and 4.00 P.M. on the 27th. In the circumstances curfew may not have been an effective deterrent to escape during anarchy in the prison, but it would have struck planners among the staff as a precaution.
Jansz, whose own conduct was arguably creditable under the circumstances, had done himself a disservice by not placing the whole truth on record. In both inquests, he had been covering up for his subordinates. He did not for example put it down on record in the first inquest that most of the staff around him 'were not doing anything constructive'. He made it easy for the Magistrate and the AG's men to make the singular omission of not calling up the jailors on duty. Even their names are not on record. There was after all no call on Jansz as Commissioner to enter Welikade prison and use 'physical force'. This he did out of personal concern.
In the second incident Jansz had put himself in a weak position by trying to cover up for the apparent non-availability of Leo de Silva, the SP, and the two ASPs. If they were absent in the normal manner, Leo de Silva would have told Jansz, asking him to keep an eye on things. The fact that the Chief Jailor told Jansz about his apprehensions of trouble, and Jansz himself made inquiries, appears to put Jansz in the position of one who was acting for the Superintendent, Welikade. Then it would have fallen on Jansz to answer why no effective precautions were taken, whether for a jail break or for an attack on Tamil PTA detainees. Why were only the latter locked up in their cells with even the cell keys held by a guard outside? Why were the others, especially the dangerous criminals in Chapel A3, not locked up in their cells, thereby enabling them to escape when food was served? Those upstairs were, it appears, even free to rush down into the lobby, grab the exit key from the overseer and go out.
If on the other hand Leo de Silva and his two assistants were unavailable because of intimidation, physical threat or obstruction, it would have been better for Jansz if he had said so. It would then have been clear that the prison had been taken over by some staff with active political connivance. In this case, Jansz would have been fairly helpless. He would not have got much help from the Police or the Army and he could only hope that the survivors would be sent out before anything happened. Jansz after all told us that two decent jailors who used their service revolvers to fire at the rioters on the 25th could not come to work for some time. (About five attackers among the prisoners had bullet wounds as a result, but this too is not on record.)
After the second massacre, Major Peiris took considerable initiative and waited at the prison, making arrangements to move the Tamil prisoners out that same night. He also had Nirmala Nithyananthan brought out from the female ward since her husband, a survivor from the upper floor of YOB, was among those to be moved.
Another official who came there and who had known Jansz from their undergraduate days together at the Medical Faculty, recalled an incident which amused him. An army officer who had come there and who evidently knew Jansz well remarked, "Cutty can't say boo to a goose!". The official thought to himself that it perfectly fitted the Cutty he had known for more than thirty years.
Major Peiris decided against taking the Tamil survivors to any army camp. He first transported them to Galle Face Green late in the night and stayed with them. Two buses were then arranged to take them to Katunayake air base, from where they were dispatched by air to Batticaloa prison. All, but about three of them, escaped from there in September 1983 and reached India. Fr. Singarayar wished to stay behind and face his trial. Dr. Tharmalingam was too old to escape.
At the time of the massacre, a Tamil militant, J, found guilty of a normal criminal offence, had been in H Ward, Welikade. His two cellmates were Sinhalese, who promised to see that nothing happened to him. J was also well known in prison circles as he was a good volleyball player and took part in games. During the first massacre most of his Sinhalese mates were out watching the dead and injured being brought out and many of them expressed disgust. They told him that the injured prisoners were attacked and killed and were clear that prison staff were behind it. One jailor too was seen attacking the injured. Among the staff named by them as being behind the violence were Jailor Rogers Jayasekere (elderly, tall and on the darker side), and two others including Samitha. Rogers Jayasekere, an influential man with well-known UNP connections has been widely named by others.
This will be taken up in the next chapter. Jailor Samitha, one of those named, was connected with another incident concerning J. Following the second massacre, Samitha had done a tour around H Ward later in the evening. Seeing J, he said in surprise, "Mu thavama inavatha?" ("Is he still here?") When he went downstairs, J heard him asking other prisoners, "How much has he seen?" Samitha was then heard saying that nothing could be done that day (it was past lock-up time), and that they would see about it later. J spent a very anxious night.
That same night following the second massacre, Mr. Delgoda, Commissioner of Prisons, returned from abroad. The following morning, a Sinhalese jail guard gave J a piece of paper and told him, "It is not safe for you to be here. Many other Tamil prisoners have been transferred to Batticaloa. You write an appeal and give it to Mr. Delgoda." Later all the prisoners were called out on parade. Delgoda addressed them, expressing his shock and condemnation of the massacres. When that was over, J handed him his appeal. J too was transferred.
The Daily News gave fairly complete accounts of both inquests. But there were obviously political commissars deciding the headlines. The report on the first inquest was titled, "Prisoners Vent their Fury - Killing of Terrorists". (28.7.83). The report on the second was titled, "Spontaneous Attack on Terrorists" (30.7.89). In his 'in-depth account' of July 1983 T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka, a man with no excuse for ignorance of legal norms and basic fair-play, constantly refers to the PTA detainees as 'terrorists'. Jansz took objection to such references. He said that most of those killed in the massacres, especially those in Chapel D3, would soon have been released. Father Singarayar who declined to escape from Batticaloa prison, was discharged by the High Court. The State appealed and the Appeal Court hearing reached its final stages in July 1987 - the month of the Indo-Lanka Accord. Bala Tampoe, who fought the case on his behalf was confident that the State's charges had been demolished, and that he was on the verge of acquittal. In August 1987, the state declared a nolle prosequi and released Fr. Singarayar along with the other detainees being amnestied.[Top]
Many years have flown since that eventful month of July 1983. But it would be wrong to say that the dark secrets of Welikade prison lie buried in the sands of time. Their effects are still with us. Those who lived through it remain haunted by the experience. Many of the prisoners who survived went on to become militant leaders, who were dedicated to fighting the State. Some in turn became killers. Mr. and Mrs. Nithyananthan rejoined the LTTE in India and left in disillusionment the following year. Fr. Singarayar re-established contact with the LTTE, and died in Jaffna in 1993, a lonely and broken man. Fr. Sinnarasa who escaped to India in September 1983 distanced himself from the LTTE for several years, but is now in North America campaigning for the LTTE in a spirit of blind hatred not different from that which moved the Cyril Mathews of July 1983. Arulanandam David of the Gandhiyam lives in India, a man of gentle pursuits, dabbling in literary and philosophical matters. But in his political opinion he is perhaps even more a blind Eelamist, dreaming of a Tamil Israel, supporting the group which tortured and killed several of his old friends in the PLOTE. Douglas Devananda now leads the EPDP and once again narrowly survived after a second prison attack on him at Kalutara. He was badly mauled by LTTE suspects whom he visited as an MP in 1998.
Chief Jailor Karunaratne moved on to the Public Service Commission. Rogers Jayasekere who retired to his home in Kelaniya is still reported as living but deranged in mind. Jansz became Commissioner and later succeeded Justice Soza as Chairman of the Human Rights Task Force in 1994. H.G. Dharmadasa became Commissioner of Prisons and a particular incident is worth recording. Following the LTTE's Pettah bomb blast in April 1987 there was tension in Welikade Prison. The bomb blast, which ended the Government's unilateral ceasefire, had killed nearly 120 civilians in Colombo's main bus terminus. Dharmadasa quickly moved the PTA detainees to the female ward. Upon receiving an alarm about an attempt on the Tamil detainees, Dharmadasa went and stood against a hole some Sinhalese prisoners were trying to make, with his hands stretched out. He was bodily carried away, but the attempt to get at the Tamil prisoners stopped.
He then brought the Tamil prisoners temporarily to the Prison HQ, and with the consent of the Principal, Mr. Gunasinghe, housed them in the Nalanda College boarding and later moved them to Boossa. He was recently on the Disappearance Commission. Those who survived the 1983 jail massacre are quick to acknowledge that there were several decent members of the prison staff around (e.g. the jail guard in C3 who tried hard to protect them). They also have a strong word of appreciation for the commando unit under Major Sunil Peiris. The government of the day chose to blacken the name of the entire prison service and, to this end, suppress the recording of deeds that deserved commendation. This was accomplished through holding an inquest calculated to whitewash its misdeeds and those of its agents.
The Chief Magistrate Keerthi Srilal Wijewardene must have been a most unhappy man. No good professional man likes his services being abused in an unprofessional capacity. This is what the authorities did to him, although he appeared reluctant to undertake the inquest knowing what was expected. He went onto become district judge in his native place, Badulla, and became the first Director for Human Rights at the Commission for the Elimination of Discrimination and the Monitoring of Fundamental Rights, of which H.W. Jayewardene, the president's brother, was chairman. Although Wijewardene's career prospects were looking bright, he died on 13th February 1988,a young man aged 46, as fate would have it.
The two inquest reports convey a poor impression of his merits as a magistrate. However his scholarly attainments marked him out for a bright career as could be seen from the report in the Sun (15.2.88): "A brilliant student of St. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia, where he won several prizes including the Pieris-Siriwardene Memorial, the Warden Buck Memorial and the Arndt Memorial. Mr. Wijewardene also won a string of prizes at the Ceylon Law College, coming first in the final year examination. He was also president of the Alumni Association for the UN, Far East and Asia Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders." He was another victim of the state culture. Those who knew him at school thought him a fair-minded man, though perhaps not a strong man. Marapone was then his contemporary.
Tilak Marapone went on to become Attorney General, a post which he resigned when the UNP lost power in 1994. C.R. de Silva was recently Deputy Solicitor General is charge of criminal matters, the same post which Marapone had held in July 1983. He is now Solicitor General.
It is clear that the hand of the State was laid very heavily to cover up wrongdoing and to protect prison officials and the Army. But there remains the question of whether these massacres were planned in advance or whether they arose as a spontaneous response to what was going on outside - those in the prison as it were doing their bit for the 'Sinhalese Race'? It would thus seem that the answer to the question, whether spontaneous or pre-planned, would be relevant for establishing a correspondence between events both inside and outside the prison. During a further conversation about the prison massacres, Jansz was in an easier frame of mind. He remarked quite uncharacteristically, "On looking back it was all well-planned!".
The court actions of the families assisted by the CRM dragged on for about 5 years. Both sides listed Jansz and Leo de Silva, who had by then retired, as witnesses. Both declined to go for any consultations with either side. Eventually the cases were settled with the State making ex-gratia payments to the families without accepting responsibility.[Top]
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