Lohan Ratwatte is accused of entering the prison north of Colombo and trying to force confessions from Tamil prisoners.
The Prime Minister, who is in charge of the Sri Lankan prisons, has resigned following public outcry after allegedly threatening to kill two ethnic minority prisoners.
Lohan Ratwatte submitted his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday, acknowledging that he was responsible for both incidents, the president’s office said in a statement. According to Rajapaksa, he resigned.
Ratwatte, Minister of Prison Management and Rehabilitation of Prisoners, is accused of entering a prison in Anuradhapura, north of the capital, Colombo, on Sunday and threatening to kill two Tamil prisoners.
Tamil minority lawmaker Gajen Ponnambalam said Ratwatte had summoned Tamil prisoners after he went to the Anuradhapura prison. “He made two of them kneel before him and aimed his personal firearm at them and threatened to kill them on the spot,” Ponnambalam tweeted.
(3) The TNPF strongly condemns this heinous act of the Prime Minister. Tamil political prisoners have already been traumatized because they are being held in custody under one of the most draconian legislation in the world, the PTA.
– Gajen Ponnambalam LP (@GGPonnambalam) 14 September 2021
Ratwatte’s resignation letter did not confirm or deny the allegations, but he said: “I resign because I do not want to embarrass the government in the light of the media reports.”
Tamil lawmakers have asked the government to fire Ratwatte, a member of the Sinhalese ethnic majority, and arrest him. Tamil political parties said the minister wanted the detainees to admit that they had ties to Tamil Tiger rebels, who had waged a long separatist war that ended in May 2009 with a fierce military onslaught.
Separately, local newspapers reported that a minister forcibly entered the Welikada prison in Colombo to allow a group of friends to visit the gallows.
The newspapers did not identify the minister, but the president’s office said Ratwatte acknowledged responsibility for the incidents in both prisons, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The dispute comes because the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva has urged Sri Lanka to prosecute or release either 78 Tamils who have been held captive for decades without being charged.
Opposition lawmaker Ponnambalam said: ‘That a minister can act in this way if the UNHRC’s view of Sri Lanka shows just how undisturbed the state is towards the UNHRC.
Aminesty International’s director of the Asia-Pacific, Yamini Mishra, called for an inquiry into the incident, saying “there must be a swift, impartial and effective inquiry and the minister must be held accountable for his actions.”
Sri Lankan prisons are very busy, with more than 32,000 prisoners being filled in facilities along with a capacity of 11,000.
Dozens of inmates were killed and 100 others injured last November during a riot by inmates at a prison on the outskirts of Colombo.