Sri Lankan prison minister resigns over prisoner threats

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan minister in charge of prisons submitted his resignation on Wednesday following a public outcry after he allegedly threatened to kill two ethnic minority prisoners.

Lohan Ratwatte, state minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, was accused of entering a prison in Anuradhapura north of Colombo on Sunday and threatening to kill two Tamil prisoners. He was also accused of forcibly entering another prison in Colombo with his friends.

Ratwatte tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday and acknowledged his responsibility for both incidents, the president’s office said in a statement. Rajapaksa accepted his resignation, it said.

Tamil minority lawmaker Gajen Ponnambalam said Ratwatte summoned Tamil prisoners after going to the prison in Anuradhapura. He “got two of them to kneel in front of him and pointed his personal firearm at them and threatened to kill them on the spot,” Ponnambalam tweeted.

Ratwatte is a member of the Sinhalese ethnic majority.

Tamil lawmakers asked the government to sack the minster and arrest him.

Separately, local newspapers reported that a government 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 at both prisons.

It was not immediately possible to obtain a comment from Ratwatte.

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra called for an inquiry on the incident, saying “there must be a prompt, impartial and effective inquiry and the Minister must be held to account for his actions.”

Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested, with more than 32,000 inmates crowded into facilities with a capacity of 11,000.

A dozen inmates were killed and 100 others injured last November during a riot by inmates at a prison on the outskirt of Colombo.

Tamil rebels fought to create a separate state during a 26-year civil war but were defeated by government troops in 2009.

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This story has been corrected to show the minister is a state minister, not a Cabinet Minister.

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