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Sri Lanka to release hundreds of inmates after prison riot

December 1, 2020

The violent clashes broke out after prisoners vented their anger over coronavirus-related conditions at a high-security prison located near Colombo. Eleven people have since died, with over 100 wounded in the riots.

A family member of an inmate pleads with a policeman outside the Mahara prison, asking for information on the condition of her relative inside
Image: Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo/picture alliance

The Sri Lankan government agreed on Tuesday to release hundreds of prisoners held for minor offences and said it would free thousands more after a deadly riot broke out over coronavirus cases at one of its many overcrowded jails.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry told parliament that a total of 607 inmates had been given a general amnesty after Sunday's riot and that as part of "a presidential directive we are looking at other ways of releasing more prisoners and expediting the cases against them."

Read more: US election: What does Joe Biden's victory mean for South Asia?

Death toll rises

The death toll from the riot at the high security prison in Mahara, 15 kilometers north of Colombo, has risen to 11 while more than 100 inmates and two prison officials remain hospitalized from the clashes.

The initial number of reported fatalities was eight but this increased as other inmates succumbed to injuries incurred in the violence.

The riot in Mahara began after prisoners held in remand custody demanded better health facilities and called to expedite the hearing of their cases. 

Prisons Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake earlier said a group of inmates had forced their way into an area where medicine is stored, stealing pharmaceuticals.

Sri Lanka's jails are at bursting point, holding more than 30,000 inmates, roughly three times their capacity. Some 1,200 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 across the Indian Ocean island.

jsi/msh (AFP, dpa)