Tamil prisoners were murdered whilst in government custody
Fifty three Tamil prisoners were murdered whilst in
government custody. Thirty five Tamil political prisoners (held
in custody under the infamous Sri Lanka
Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was described by the
International Commission of Jurists as 'an ugly blot on the
statute book of any civilised country') were killed within the
walls of the high security Welikade prison, in Colombo, on 25
July. Two days later, on 27 July, 18 more Tamil political
prisoners were killed within the confines of the same Welikade
The Tamil prisoners who were massacred
in Welikade in July 1983 were :
25th July 1983
1. Kuttimani Yogachandran 2. N. Thangathurai 3.
Nadesathasan 4. Jegan 5. Alias Sivarasa 6. Sivan
Anpalagan 7. A. Balasubramaniam 8. Surash Kumar 9.
Arunthavarajah 10. Thanapalasingham 11. Arafat 30.
Anpalagan Sunduran 12. P. Mahendran 31. Ramalingam
Balachandran 13. K. Thillainathan 32. K.
Thavarajasingham 1420. S. Subramaniam 21. Mylvaganam
Sinnaiah 22. G. Mylvaganam 23. Ch. Sivanantharajah 24.
T. Kandiah 25. S. Sathiyaseelan 26. Kathiravelpillai 27.
Easvaranathan 28. K. Nagarajah 29. Gunapalan
Ganeshalingam . S. Kularajasekaram 33. K. Krishnakumar
15. K. Uthaya Kumar 34. R. Yoganathan 16. S. Sivakumar
35. A. Uthayakumar 17. A. Rajan 36. G. Amirthalingam 18.
S. Balachandran 37. V. Chandrakumar 19. Yogachandran
Killi 38. Sittampalam Chandrakulam 39. Navaratnam
27th July 1983
1. Muthukumar Srikumar 10. Gnanamuthu
Naveratnasingham 2. Philip Amirthanayagam 11. Kandiah
Rajendran (Robert) 3. Kulasingam Kumar 12. Dr.
Somasunderam Rajasunderam 4. Selachami Kumar 13.
Somasunderam Manoranjan 5. Kandasamy Sarveswaran 14.
Arumugam Seyan (Appu) 6. A. Marianpillai 15.
Thamotharampillai Jegemogenandan 7. Sivapathan
Neethirajah 16. Sinnathambi Sivasubramaniam 8.
Devanayagam Paskaran 17. Sellay Rajeratnam 9. Ponnaiya
Thurairajah 18. Kumarasamy Ganeshalingam 19. Ponnampalam
David Beresford in The Guardian 5,
10 August 1983....
"Eyes 'gouged out' in Sri Lankan gaol"
..it is the massacres in the Welikade gaol which are
attracting the most attention. There is a particular interest in
circumstances in which two alleged guerilla leaders were killed.
The two men, Sellarasa "Kuttimani" Yogachandiran, leader of the
Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization and a political writer, and
Ganeshanathan Jeganathan had been sentenced to death last year
for the murder of a policeman.
In speeches from the dock, the two men announced that they
would donate their eyes in the hope that they would be grafted
on to Tamils who would see the birth of Eelam, the independent
state they were fighting. Second hand reports from Batticaloa
gaol, where the survivors of the Welikada massacre are now being
kept, say that the two men were forced to kneel and their eyes
gouged out with iron bars before they were killed. One version
has it that Kutimani's tounge was cut out by an attacker who
drank the blood and cried: "I have drunk the blood of a Tiger."
The two men were among the 35 killed in the Welikada gaol on
July 25. Another 17 were killed in the gaol two days later and
the Guardian has obtained a first hand account of part of the
fighting in this incident, including the circumstances in which
Sri Lanka's Gandhian leader, Dr. Rajasunderam, died. Dr.
Rajasunderam was one of nine men, including two Catholic priests
and a Methodist minister, who were moved out of their cells
immediately after the July 25 killings -- to make way for
survivors moved into their cells on security grounds -- into a
padlocked hall, upstairs in the same block. The nine, convinced
that further attacks were coming, made repeated representations
to the prison authorities on July 26 for better security
measures. Assurances were given that they would be protected,
but nothing was done.
At 2:30 pm in July 27, hearing screaming and whistling
outside, one of the priests looked out of a high window and saw
prisoners breaking in from a neighboring compound, wielding
axes, iron bars, pieces of firewood, and sticks. There was no
sign of the prison guards. The mob, which was later found to
have killed 16 prisoners in the downstairs cells, ran up to the
hall and began breaking the padlock. Dr. Rajasunderam then went
to the door and cried out: "Why are you trying to kill us? What
have we done to you?" At that moment, the door burst open and
Dr. Rajasunderam was hit on the side of the neck by a length of
iron. Blood was seen to spurt several feet. "At that juncture,
we thought we should defend ourselves," one of the prisoners
related. "We broke the two tables in the hall and took the legs
to defend ourselves." "We kept them at bay. They threw bricks at
us. We threw them back. Pieces of firewood and an iron bar were
thrown at us. We used them to defend ourselves. It went on for
about half an hour.
They shouted: 'You are the priests, we must kill you.'" The
killing was eventually ended by the army, who moved in with tear
gas. An inquest has been opened into the Welikada massacres, but
the above details did not emerge. Prison warders claim that keys
to the cells were stolen from them. Lawyers for the prisoners
who have accused the warders of having participated, claim that
they were not given the opportunity to bring evidence despite
representation to the Government. "
"Selvarajah Yogachandran, popularly known as Kuttimuni, a
nominated member of the Sri Lankan Parliament...,one of the 52
prisoners killed in the maximum security Welikade prison in
Colombo two weeks ago, (on July 25) was forced to kneel in his
cell, where he was under solitary confinement, by his assailants
and ordered to pray to them. When he refused, he was taunted by
his tormentors about his last wish, when he was sentenced to
death. He had willed that his eyes be donated to some one so
that at least that person would see an independent Tamil Eelam.
The assailants then gouged his eyes...He was then stabbed to
death and his testicles were wrenched from his body. This was
confirmed by one of the doctors who had conducted the postmortem
of the first group of 35 prisoners." (Madras Hindu, 10 August
The International Commission of Jurists commented:
"It is not clear how it was possible for the killings to take
place without the connivance of prison officials, and how the
assassinations could have been repeated after an interval of two
days, since Welikade prison is a high security prison and the
Tamil prisoners were kept in separate cells..." (Ethnic
Violence in Sri Lanka, 1981-83: Staff Report of the
International Commission of Jurists, ICJ Review)
"... it is relevant to mention the gruesome massacre of
53 Tamil prisoners in the Welikade jail in Colombo on July
25 and 27 last year. Many of them were only detainees on
suspicion and not convicted prisoners. After they were
brutally murdered, their wives, sisters, children and
parents came to know about their death only through the
radio. Much more terrible was the fact that the bodies of
these detainees were buried or cremated without any member
of the families knowing or being present. They were not even
given the chance of having a last look at the body.
No amount of sanctimonious expressions of sorrow or
statements made before the Commission that the Sri Lankan
Government was not proud of what happened at the Colombo
jail would be acceptable to the civilised world, when up to
date, the government has failed or neglected or refused to
order an independent judicial inquiry into this
unprecedented slaughter of those who were in the custody of
the Government. (Statement by All India Womens
Conference at UN Sub Commission on Prevention of
Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, 24 August 1984)
"The most brutal and obviously well organised massacres
took place within the confines of a prison located in the
capital city. A prison is by definition a high security
establishment, this is particularly so of the Welikade Prison
which even by official terminology of the Sri Lankan government,
is a 'maximum security' establishment. Yet not one but two
gruesome massacres occur within its walls in the space of a
week!..'' (R.K. Karanjia in
The Blitz, 6 August 1983)
The trials of Tamil militants under the Prevention of
Terrorism Act had become an embarrassment to the government.
Allegations of torture had attracted observers from the
International Commission of Jurists and from Amnesty
Court itself had become a forum for agitation in support of
the claim of the Tamil people that they constituted a nation.
Around May 1983, the government moved many political
prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, including
Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran, from the
army camp at Panagoda to the jail at Welikade. Panagoda was a
special prison, in an army camp in an outlying suburb of Colombo
and conveniently situated for torture and 'investigative
But if the prisoners were killed whilst at Panagoda, the
government of Sri Lanka may have been directly implicated for
the act of the army. Sections of the maximum security Welikade
jail, however, housed a large number of Sinhala prisoners as
well. The move from Panagoda to Welikade assisted the plan to
murder the Tamil militants in custody, at an appropriate time
and explain away the murder as a "prison riot".
''Very few believed the story that these killings were the
result of a prison riot. How did the other prisoners get out
of their cells? Where did they get their weapons? And, most
important who put these Island Reconvicted Criminals next to the
detenues and in the same building? And when? And even if one
overlooked the first killings, how to explain the killing of a
further seventeen Tamil detenues the following day? What were
the prison authorities doing....? Why did'nt they send the Tamil
detenues to a safer place?... This coldly calculated murder
of Tamil prisoners will be an eternal blot on the Sri Lankan
government that nothing can wipe out. An army officer who
had visited the prison morgue told me that the detenues must
have been attacked with clubs and knives. Kuttimuni had been
badly slashed...'' (Eye witness account, Sri Lanka: Racism
and the Authoritarian State - Race and Class, Volume XXVI,
A.Sivanandan and Hazel Waters, Institute of Race Relations)
The post mortem inquiry into the death of the Tamil prisoners
at Welikade, returned a verdict of homicide. Amnesty
International reported in June 1984:
"Amnesty International has itself interviewed one Tamil
detainee who survived the killing and has received a sworn
statement from another survivor, both of whom state that
some prisoners who had come to attack them later told the
surviving detainees that they had been asked to kill Tamil
prisoners. According to the sworn statement: 'We asked
these people as to why they came to kill us. To this they
replied that they were given arrack by the prison
authorities and they were asked to kill all those at the
youth offenders ward (where the Tamil prisoners were kept)'.