A fast by the so-called death row prisoners to have their jail terms reduced entered the sixth day yesterday. Some of them have been hospitalised due to dehydration and there are no signs of their demand being granted.
Prisoners are also human beings and the State is duty bound to treat them humanely in spite of the heinous crimes they have committed. Our prisons are hellholes, as is common knowledge. They must be developed and turned into modern correctional facilities if the inmates therein are to be rehabilitated and released into the mainstream of society at the conclusion of their prison terms.
But, it needs to be stressed that no hardcore criminal in jail has a right to resort to protests demanding early release. What the protesting prisoners need to be told is they are very lucky to have been born in this country where successive governments have refused to have them executed despite a popular campaign for bringing back the hangman to arrest the soaring crime rate. Had they lived in, say, the Middle East and committed their crimes there, they would not have been among the living to stage protests they would have been hanged or put to the sword in public.
Among the fasting prisoners are some mass murderers including the criminals who massacred a family of six in cold blood at Hokandara in 1999. There are also notorious rapists, homicidal maniacs, armed robbers and drug dealers including the one, from whose house at Ward Place, the largest ever haul of heroin (23kg) in the Colombo city was seized about six years ago! These are the kind of men who want to walk to freedom prematurely!
The on-going prisoners` protest looks well orchestrated. The netherworld of drugs and crime is full of ill-gotten wealth and the affluent criminals are extremely powerful and influential. Therefore, one is justified in suspecting that there is a hidden hand behind the prisoners` fast. Support for their demand for early release is also being drummed up in some quarters. It looks as if they got better publicity, as it were, than the protesting university dons who really deserve a pay hike!
Governments including the incumbent one have blundered by granting pardons to hardcore criminals in an ad hoc manner, in most cases, for political reasons. This deplorable practice has set a very bad precedent, which the convicted criminals on the warpath are trying to invoke for their benefit.
Those who really need relief are the surviving victims of protesting prisoners, and other members of the law-abiding public who live in eternal fear of dangerous criminals. In fact, the underworld has turned the houses of ordinary people into veritable prisons, going by their steel grilles, tall perimeter walls, alarm systems etc. Strangely, nobody is campaigning for safeguarding people s legitimate right to live free from fear of being robbed, raped and murdered inside their own homes.
The country has come to such a pass that the police are not in a position to battle crime effectively the conviction rate is woefully low justice system is flawed corruption in state institutions like the Government Analyst`s Department helps criminals, especially drug kingpins, get away the judicial process gets manipulated in favour of the politically connected underworld figures and politicians abuse their powers to pardon convicted dangerous men who pose a grave threat to the society. Little wonder criminals are having a field day!
Prisoners, we repeat, have grievances, which need to be redressed. If they need spacious cells, better food, freedom from abuse, recreational facilities, better access to health care and the like, their demands should be heeded. But, on no grounds should they be allowed to demand release from prison prematurely as of right. They may make requests but not demands. Let them be made to realise that they are fighting a losing battle regardless of the methods being used.