More than 500 activists began a hunger strike today to demand the release of long-term Tamil detainees in several prisons in Sri Lanka.
Relatives and politicians launched the hunger strike in Vavuniya, 250 kilometers north of Colombo, as more than 234 Tamil prisoners, mostly former rebels, continued their own hunger strike that began last week, demanding that their cases be heard or that hey be released.
The detainees were surrendered to security forces at the end of the civil war in May 2009.
“We call upon the government to take immediate steps to release all the Tamil political prisoners,” said Perumal Boominathan, secretary for the Release of Political Prisoners Movement.
Most of the prisoners have still not been charged, Boominathan said.
“Prisoners who have currently engaged in a fast unto death campaign in several prisons have refused to call off their fast,” he said. “They should be either charged or released.”
Tamil MP Rajavarothiam Sampanthan made a statement to parliament Wednesday. “The prisoners who are on a hunger strike, the health condition of some of them has deteriorated,” he said.
Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Leader of the House, told parliament yesterday that the new courts to hear the cases of detainees will be established within a month.
Siripala de Silva said the long-term detainees were Tamil Tiger suspects, not political prisoners, and 300 cases were pending.
Vijekumari Nandakumar, 25, joined in the protest. She lives with her 3-year-old child and three sisters in Kilinochchi, while her husband is in prison in Colombo. She faces many hardships to look after her family without her husband’s support, she said.
“We have sold our gold jewelry to survive and I don’t know what to do next,” she said.
According to the government, over 10,000 people who surrendered in 2009 have been rehabilitated and released.
Earlier this month, the European Union called for a fair trial for long-term detainees in prisons.