Indians in Colombo prison send out SOS
Indian prisoners in Sri Lanka's largest jail have sent out an SOS fearing for their lives as a terrible riot swept through the complex in Colombo leaving at least 27 people dead.
"Please save our lives. We are in trouble. Please help us. Very urgent," read an SMS sent to IANS from the Welikada prison close to midnight Friday as guards and commandos opened fire to crush a mutiny.
The message said that trouble erupted in the prison Friday evening when a section of Sri Lankan prisoners apparently demanded that they should either be released or hanged.
The SMS said that the revolting Sri Lankan prisoners had destroyed the prison store, surgery room and kitchen.
"No medicines, no food (in the jail)," the SMS added.
The message, sent on behalf of 39 Indian inmates in the Welikada prison, added: "There is no guarantee to our lives. Anything can happen anytime. We are all suffering."
Using another phone, the Indian prisoners also sent to IANS a short but hazy video clip showing scenes of the prison riot, including smoke billowing within the complex.
The video, apparently filmed on a mobile phone, also recorded cries of "adi, adi, adi" in Tamil (beat them, beat them, beat them) and had references to teargas and the army.
The SMS did not specify whether the dead were only Sri Lankans and if any Indian prisoner had been hurt.
But, Sri Lankan officials told Indian diplomats in Colombo that all Indians were safe.
The Indian High Commission has demanded consular access to the prisoners, most of whom are from Tamil Nadu and are undergoing sentences for criminal activities.
The Indian prisoners have repeatedly complained that India is not doing enough to transfer them to Indian prisons, although a bilateral pact provides for such a transfer.
According to media reports, 16 of those killed in Welikada had been taken to the Colombo National Hospital while 11 bodies were still inside the prison premises.
According to officials in Colombo, the riot broke out Friday when prison guards and police commandos began looking for drugs and mobile telephones.
Some of the prisoners broke the armoury and fled to the roof with weapons, triggering gunfights with security personnel.
The SMS to IANS also appeared to indicate there was firing from both sides at one point of time.
The situation was brought under control Saturday.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at email@example.com)