Sri Lanka: Eight inmates killed as prison officers open fire to quell coronavirus-related riot

Eight prisoners have been killed and 59 others injured after guards opened fire to control a riot at a jail near Sri Lanka’s capital, according to officials.

Coronavirus-related unrest has been brewing in the country’s prisons for weeks, with inmates staging several protests across different jails as the number of cases continues to increase in the facilities.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said inmates created “unrest” at Mahara prison – about 10 miles north of Colombo – on Sunday, as staff attempted to calm the situation.

Two prison officers were critically injured during the incident and hundreds of extra officers were deployed to help the guards and strengthen security around the jail.

He said: “The unrest situation turned into a prison riot.”

Mr Rohana added that inmates tried to take control of the jail and hundreds of people attempted to escape.

They reportedly destroyed most of the property including offices inside the prison, he said.

Senaka Perera, a lawyer with the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, said the prisoners are angry that their requests for COVID-19 testing and the isolation of infected inmates had been ignored by officials for more than a month.

An inmate was killed in similar unrest at another prison last week. Another died in March.

Sri Lankan prisons are highly crowded – with more than 26,000 inmates compressed into facilities with a capacity of 10,000.

The country has experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases since last month when two clusters – one centred at a clothes factory and another at a fish market – emerged in Colombo and its surrounding areas.

Confirmed cases from the two clusters are at 19,449. Meanwhile Sri Lanka has reported a total number of 22,988 coronavirus cases, including 109 deaths.

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