Prison officials say about 150 death row inmates in Sri Lanka have begun a hunger strike to demand their sentences be commuted to life in prisonBy BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI Associated PressJune 25, 2021, 7:47 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLOMBO, Sri Lanka — About 150 death row inmates were on a hunger strike Friday to demand their sentences be commuted after Sri Lanka’s president pardoned a former lawmaker who had been condemned for an election-related killing.Several inmates protested on the roof of a prison in the capital, Colombo, holding up banners demanding equal treatment and bail consideration. “Grant pardon to us like you did to terrorists and notorious politicians,” one banner said in local script.The former lawmaker’s surprise release Thursday after he was pardoned by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has drawn widespread criticism, including from the U.N. human rights office and the U.S. ambassador in Sri Lanka.Duminda Silva is widely seen as a favorite of Sri Lanka’s ruling Rajapaksa family and had been serving a death sentence over the killing of a rival lawmaker from his own party in an election-related attack about 10 years ago.The strike involved about 150 inmates sentenced to death who were demanding their sentences be commuted to life terms, prison spokesman Chandana Ekanayake said.He said prison officials were discussing with the Justice Ministry and other government officials to resolve the issue but declined to give further details.Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested with more than 26,000 inmates crowded in facilities with the capacity of 10,000. Unrest related to COVID-19 erupted in one prison last year, and at least eleven inmates were killed and more than 100 wounded when guards opened fire to control the unrest.Silva’s surprise release appeared to have set off the protest.The United Nation’s Human Rights Office said Silva’s case “is another example of selective, arbitrary granting of pardons that weakens rule of law and undermines accountability.”U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz in a tweet on Thursday said the pardon of Silva “undermines rule of law.”Sri Lanka has not hanged a prisoner since 1976 even though courts routinely pass death sentences. Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena, had vowed to end the moratorium on capital punishment and to use it against those convicted of drug crimes.Prison officials hired two executioners to carry out the hangings, but none took place during Sirisena’s tenure.
Nearly a hundred carcasses of turtles with throat and shell damage, as well as a dozen dead dolphins and a blue whale, have washed ashore in Sri Lanka since a container ship burned and sankBy BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 7:56 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Nearly a hundred carcasses of turtles with throat and shell damage, as well as a dozen dead dolphins and a blue whale, have washed ashore in Sri Lanka since a container ship burned and sank, raising fears of a severe marine disaster.Ecologists believe the deaths were directly caused by the fire and release of hazardous chemicals while the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl burned for 12 days and sank last week off Sri Lanka’s main port in the capital Colombo. Government officials, however, said these causes were “provisionally” confirmed and the investigation was continuing.The fire started on the ship on May 20 and dead marine species started washing ashore days later.A ship manifest seen by The Associated Press said 81 of the ship’s nearly 1,500 containers held “dangerous” goods.The Sri Lankan navy believes the blaze was caused by its chemical cargo, most of which was destroyed in the fire. But debris including burned fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets have severely polluted the surrounding waters and a long stretch of the island nation’s famed beaches.Post-mortem analysis on the carcasses are being performed at five government-run laboratories and separately by the Government Analysts Department, said an official of the wildlife department who spoke on condition of anonymity as the official was not authorized to speak to the media.“Provisionally, we can say that these deaths were caused by two methods — one is due to burns from the heat and secondly due to chemicals. These are obvious,” said Anil Jasinghe, secretary of the environment ministry.He refrained from giving an exact cause, saying “post-mortem analysis are still being conducted.”Thushan Kapurusinghe of the Turtle Conservation Project blamed the fire and chemicals the ship carried for killing the turtles.With over three decades experience on turtle conservation, Kapurusinghe said the dead turtles had oral, cloacal and throat bleeding and “specific parts of their carapace have burns and erosion signs.”The sea off Sri Lanka and its coastline are home to five species of turtles that regularly come to lay eggs. March to June is the peak season for turtle arrivals.Lalith Ekanayake, a marine and coastal ecologist, suspects, based on the nature of the fire and amount of chemicals, that “at least 400 turtles may have died and their carcasses may have sunk in the sea or drifted to the deep sea.”Sri Lanka plans to claim compensation from X-Press Feeders, the ship’s owner, and already have submitted an interim claim of $40 million.
The U.N. representative in Sri Lanka says the sinking of a container ship that caught fire while transporting chemicals off the capital Colombo has caused a significant damage to the planet by releasing hazardous substances into the ecosystemBy BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI Associated PressJune 20, 2021, 5:07 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The U.N. representative in Sri Lanka said the sinking of a container ship that caught fire while transporting chemicals off the capital Colombo has caused “a significant damage to the planet” by releasing hazardous substances into the ecosystem.The Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl sank off on Thursday a month after catching fire, raising concerns about a possible environmental disaster.The U.N. said it was coordinating international efforts and helping Sri Lanka in assessing the damage, recovery efforts and preventing such disasters in the future.“An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem,” U.N. Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said in a statement late Saturday. “This in turn threatens lives and livelihoods of the population in the coastal areas.”A U.N. team of oil spill and chemical experts— provided by the European Union— has been sent to Sri Lanka.Sri Lanka has already submitted an interim claim of $40 million to X-Press Feeders to cover part of the cost of fighting the fire, which broke out on May 20 when the vessel was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter the port.The Sri Lankan navy believes the blaze was caused by its chemical cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which were destroyed in the fire. But debris including burned fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets have already polluted nearby beaches.A ship manifest seen by The Associated Press said the ship carrying just under 1,500 containers, with 81 of those described as “dangerous” goods.The main concern has been about 300 tons of bunker oil used as fuel for the ship. But officials have been saying it could have burned off in the fire.Both Sri Lankan authorities and the ship’s operator, X-Press Feeders, have said so far there is no sign of an oil spill.
A Sri Lankan court has granted bail to the captain of a fire-ravaged container ship hours after he was arrestedBy BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI Associated PressJune 14, 2021, 4:47 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Sri Lankan court granted bail to the captain of a fire-ravaged container ship on Monday, hours after he was arrested by police, officials said.The ship, the MV X-Press Pearl, is sinking off the country’s capital, Colombo, and causing severe environmental pollution.Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the captain was arrested under the provisions of the Marine Pollution Prevention Act, which prohibits the dumping of oil, harmful substances and other pollutants in the ocean and coastal areas. He has not been formally charged, which is done by prosecutors.Russian captain Tyutkalo Vitaly appeared before the magistrate on Monday and was later released on bail. The court banned him from leaving the country. The case will be heard again on July 1.The fire broke out when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of the capital and waiting to enter the country’s main port. It burned for 12 days.The Sri Lankan navy believes the blaze was caused by the vessel’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which was destroyed in the fire.Authorities extinguished the fire last week, but the ship then began sinking and attempts to tow it into deeper waters failed when the vessel’s stern sank to the seabed.The ship remains partly submerged in waters about 21 meters (70 feet) deep.On Saturday, the government said it is seeking an interim claim of $40 million from the ship’s operator to cover part of the cost of fighting the fire. Officials are still assessing the total damages.———This story corrects that the captain has not been formally charged.