Prisoners went on a hunger strike in a prison in Colombo, demanding equal treatment after the president’s controversial pardon.
After the President of Sri Lanka pardoned a former lawmaker who was sentenced to death for election-related killings, about 150 death row inmates in Sri Lanka went on a hunger strike and demanded a commutation of their sentences.
According to a report by the Associated Press on Friday, several prisoners protested on the roof of a prison in the capital Colombo, holding banners demanding equal treatment and consideration of bail.
“As you did to terrorists and notorious politicians, pardon us,” a banner said in local language.
The former lawmaker was unexpectedly released on Thursday after being pardoned by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, arousing widespread criticism, including the UN Human Rights Office and the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka.
Dominda Silva is widely regarded as the darling of Sri Lanka’s ruling Rajapaksa family. About 10 years ago, he was sentenced to death for murdering a rival politician in his party in an election-related attack.
Prison spokesperson Chandana Ekanayake said that the hunger strike involved about 150 prisoners sentenced to death and they demanded that their sentences be reduced to life imprisonment.
He said prison officials are holding talks with the Ministry of Justice and other government officials to resolve the issue, but declined to give more details.
Sri Lanka’s prisons are very crowded, with more than 26,000 prisoners crowded in a prison that can accommodate 10,000 people.
Last year, COVID-19-related unrest broke out in one of the prisons. When guards opened fire to control the unrest, at least 11 prisoners were killed and more than 100 injured.
Silva’s unexpected release seemed to have triggered protests.
The UN Human Rights Office stated that Silva’s case “is another example of selective and arbitrary granting of pardons, weakening the rule of law and undermining accountability.”
U.S. Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz said in a tweet on Thursday that Silva’s pardon “undermines the rule of law.”
Although the court usually imposes the death penalty, Sri Lanka has not hanged any prisoner since 1976.
Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena, promised to end the moratorium and use it for those convicted of drug offences.
Prison officials hired two executioners to execute the hang, but it did not happen during Sirisena’s tenure.