by Edither G. Perera
A politician has said that the government has ignored the request for an exercise machine made by Sarath Fonseka. This news item appeared on 20.10.2010 in The Island. He may be considered a special case by the politicians. But the Prisons Department would consider him just another convicted prisoner.
Prior to 1957, there were two categories of convicted prisoners, the star class and the normal prisoner. Star class prisoners had separate clothing, shirts and slacks and a separate ward for food and location. However, after the SLFP won in 1956, the government thought it was unethical to differentiate between convicted prisoners and did away with the star classification.
Since then, several affluent and educated persons, including politicians, have been convicted. In the 1970s, when JVP leaders, Rohana Wijeweera, Lionel Bopage, Nimal Maharage, Nandana Marasinghe, Victor Ivan, and Viraj Fernando, were convicted by the Criminal Justice Commission, they were treated as normal prisoners.
Similarly, when people of the calibre of Bhagavandas Hirdramani, Chairman Hirdramani Group, Sathanandan, son-in-law of Sir Oliver Goonatillaka, former Governor General of Sri Lanka, Farook Salley, Managing Director Mount Lavinia hotel Thaha and Mukthar, reputed bookie owners, and Lord Mowjood, famous jewellery shop owner, were convicted by the Criminal Justice Commission for violation of foreign exchange regulations, there was absolutely no difference in treatment.
Both groups were deployed to trade parties and they had to work along with other prisoners, from 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m, with an interval for meals. Morning, noon and evening they went to the place where meals were served and obtained their food. Normal prisoners are located in wards. They have adequate exercise.
Only special prisoners e.g., prisoners condemned to death, those with long sentences and those who have escaped from custody, are located in cells in a special section.
They are confined to a cell, do not work in a trade party, meals are taken to the cells and they have no freedom of movement. These are the prisoners who are taken out daily for half an hour to provide them with an opportunity for exercise, so that their health is not affected. No other prisoner is given special facilities for exercise.
When the war against the Tigers was at its zenith, the Army Commanders Sarath Fonseka, was severely criticised, insulted and ridiculed to demoralise him. When Thoppigala was captured, Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Thoppigala was a jungle.
When Alimankada and Kilinochchi were captured, Ravi Karunanayake spoke of Pamankada and Medawachchiya. Lakshman Kiriella said that any idiot could fight in a war. Nevertheless, the most sordid comment and insult came from Mr. Mangala Samaraweera that the Commander of the Army is not fit to be even the Commander of the Salvation Army. All these comments were made in that august assembly, the parliament. Wide publicity was given in all newspapers and electronic media. Politicians have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, but only permanent interests.
The Prisons Dept. would not consider Sarath Fonseka a special prisoner. He is considered another convicted prisoner. Facilities granted to other convicted prisoners, according to the Prisons ordinance, should be granted to him as well.
Providing exercise machines to prisons is an exercise in futility. It will be more useful to install a gymnasium with exercise machines in the premises of parliament. It will assist in reducing the bulging waist-lines of certain politicians!
(Edither G. Perera is a retired Superintendent of Prisons)