26 March 2020
H.E. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Hon. Jayantha Jayasuriya, Chairman of the Judicial Services Commission, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
Hon. Nimal Siripala De Silva, Minister of Justice
Mr. T. M. J. W. Thennakoon, Commissioner General of Prisons
Mr. Kalinga Indatissa PC, President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka
Hon. Justice B.P. Aluvihare, Judicial Services Commission, Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
Hon. Justice K. Sisira J. De Abrew, Judicial Services Commission, Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
Mr. H. S. Somaratne, Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission
Dr Deepika Udagama, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Hon. Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine
Mr. Dappula de Livera, Attorney General of Sri Lanka
National Police Commission of Sri Lanka
Re: Releasing Prisoners to prevent spread of COVID-19 in prisons
We welcome the announcement of the formation of a committee to discuss the release of prisoners and de-congest prisons, which is crucial to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
Given the severe overcrowding of prisons with minimal sanitation and health facilities, they could be very vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. They are also places where inmates are unable to practice preventive measures recommended by health experts, such as social distancing and hand washing with soap, as water and soap are not freely available to prisoners. Further, it is not possible to lockdown prisons due to the staff leaving and returning to prison. De-congestion and other measures are also important to calm the fears of prisoners and prison staff about COVID-19 infections. Such fears have led to unrests in several prisons, leading to deaths and injuries reportedly due to shooting in the Anuradhapura Remand Prison. There have also been COVID-19 related unrests and deaths in prisons in other countries, such as India, Colombia and Italy, which point to the potential for prisons to become hotbeds not only for the infection to spread but also for unrest and violence.