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Home >  Tamils - a Trans State Nation  > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Indictment against Sri Lanka > Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide - Preface, Prologue & Index > Black July 1983 - The Record Speaks


Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide

Fifty three Tamil prisoners were murdered whilst in government custody

Dr.S.Rajasunderam  Selvarajah Yogachandran
Nadarajah Thangathurai

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 prison.

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 Sivapatham (Master)

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 Devakumar

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 1983)

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 International. The 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 interrogation'. 

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)'. ''




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