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 Post subject: Detention of Rohana Wijeweera st Magazine Prisons
 Post Posted: Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:15 pm 
Detention of Rohana Wijeweera st Magazine Prisons

The JVP had planned to rescue Rohana from the Jaffna Prison during the insurrection. This onerous task was entrusted to some of the JVP supporters, who were students of the Katubedda Campus. About 30 to 40 students from the campus left for Jaffna the day before the insurrection, on the night of April 4, 1971. They entered the Jaffna Fort and went up to the prison.

Edither G. Perera / The Island - Dec 2008
Retired Superintendent of Prison


A couple of months prior to the JVP insurrection in April 1971, Rohan Wijeweera was arrested by the police in the jungles of Ampara, when he was having a meeting with some JVP leaders. He was brought to Batticaloa Prison and thereafter transferred to Jaffna Prison.

The JVP had planned to rescue Rohana from the Jaffna Prison during the insurrection. This onerous task was entrusted to some of the JVP supporters, who were students of the Katubedda Campus. About 30 to 40 students from the campus left for Jaffna the day before the insurrection, on the night of April 4, 1971. They entered the Jaffna Fort and went up to the prison. At night, the gate keeper of the prison, observed a few people on top of the roof of the prison. The gate keeper promptly informed the Superintendent. The Superintendent alerted the police and the army. They promptly entered the prison premises, opened fire and killed the majority of the students and arrested a few. They had no way of escaping. They were sitting ducks. The army and the police thwarted the attempt to rescue Rohana from the Jaffna Prison.

Subsequently, Rohana was brought to Colombo for the dual purpose of ensuring his security and production at the Criminal Justice Commission. He was located in one of the P cells, the most secure cell in the Sri Lanka Prisons. The army provided external security. Their barracks were in the premises and they manned the turrets at vantage points by the prison wall. The security on the eastern side, the rear of the prison, had to be strengthened because the JVP leader of Wanathamulla was also inside.

During this period, the Magazine Prison was exclusively for insurgents, mainly the hard - core ones except a few normal prisoners for jail service. There were about 100 Buddhist priests brought from various temples from all parts of the island. A few were brought without robes and we got down robes from their respective temples. Their meals had to be given before 12.00 noon. There were about 2,000 insurgents in the prison.

Younger brother of Rohana and Prins Gunasekera visited him occasionally. Bala Tampoe visited him often, a couple of months before he was released, Mrs. Mallika de Mel, wife of Ronnie de Mel visited him with his mother. She told Rohana that after his release, he should work with them. Rohana smiled but there was no response from him.

The Medical Officer of the Prison Hospital diagnosed that Rohana had a schaemic heart condition and that he should be examined and treated by a heart specialist. I wrote to the Medical Superintendent with a copy to the Commissioner of Prisons and invited attention once a week. However, there was no response from the Medical Superintendent and a question was raised by an MP in Parliament in regard to the medical treatment for Rohana. The Minister of Justice, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, checked from the Commissioner and he in turn questioned me. When I explained, the Commissioner realised that the ball was in the court of the Medical Superintendent. The very next day a specialist examined him and thereafter he was taken to the General Hospital under strong armed escort.

Rohana was totally occupied in reading and writing and also preparing his defence for his case. At the end of the CJC trial, he was commended by justice H. N. G. Fernando on the manner in which he conducted his defence. He told me that he went to the Lulumba University to do Medicine but he did political science as well. He said that of his colleagues from various countries, due to political involvement, one third had been killed, one third incarcerated and only one third were at large. I wonder whether he had a premonition in regard to his fate.

Rohana was a good organizer, skillful planner of strategy and a great motivator. His five lectures lured youth to join his party. He was no front line fighter like Sanath of Kegalle, Jayasinghe of Elpitiya or Munasinghe of Deniyaya. He was well disciplined and never created any problems to affect order and discipline at the prison.

After conviction by the CJC those inmates had to work like other normal prisoners. A Tailors Party was organised for them to work in. They stitched officers’ uniforms and prisoners clothes. A production register was maintained to ensure that every individual gave the stipulated quota of production. Two inmates were exempted from work because they were given simple imprisonment sentences by the CJC – Victor Ivan due to physical inability and Osman Silva of Wanathamulla, who had sustained serious injuries after arrest. They were employed in jail service work.

On November 2, 1977, Mr. Delgoda, the Commissioner of Prisons, telephoned around 11.30 a.m. and requested me to come to his office. When I went the Secretary Ministry of Justice, Parinda Ranasinghe, was present and he had brought the release order of all those JVP insurgents convicted by the CJC. I was briefed to release Rohana without any publicity to avoid crowds gathering at the prison premises and before an announcement was made in Parliament when it met at 2.00 p.m. by the Prime Minister J. R. Jayewardene. I returned to the prison, took all precautions to avoid publicity and informed Rohana to get ready to be released. He enquired from me whether the others will be released as well and requested me to inform them. He went in a taxi to the Mercantile Union Head Office. Thereafter 124 JVP insurgents convicted by CJC were released.

I had to take precautions not to release those convicted by the High Court.

I vividly recollect this day, because it was All Saints’ Day. My beloved father passed away on October 26, 1957 and every year my family visited his grave at the burial grounds of the church of Holy Emmanuel at Moratuwa in the evening for a prayer, light candles and spread some flowers on his grave. Despite the delay due to official responsibilities and inclement weather on this day we visited the grave around 9.00 p.m.

With the communal riots in 1983, JVP was proscribed and Rohana went underground. Given Rohana’s features, anyone could identify him. It baffles me how he evaded arrest for such a long period, even though he resided at Ulapone. Nevertheless, after arrest he should not have been killed, instead, he could have been incarcerated for some time.


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