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.”
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.
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