Tamil Political Prisoner passes away after 26 years of SL imprisonment

[TamilNet, Thursday, 02 January 2020, 23:07 GMT]
A 45-year-old Tamil Political Prisoner (TPP) from Batticaloa, Mahendran Sellappillai, passed away after suffering from a life-threatening illness (cancer) in the custody of genocidal Sri Lanka on Thursday. He was 19-year-old when the occupying Sinhala military detained him under the notorious so-called Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) during a cordon-and-search operation in Batticaloa on 27 September 1993, just three days after he had lived together with his newly married wife. The SL Army and its much-feared paramilitary operatives tortured Mahendran, who was illiterate. His family was poverty-stricken, and its livelihood was dependent on toddy-tapping. His life ended after twenty-six years, three-months and six days of custody in the various prisons of genocidal Sri Lanka. His story exposes not only the tragic fate of the TPPs but also the mindset of the SL regimes in Colombo.

Sellappillai Mahendran
Sellappillai Mahendran
Recently, Mahendran’s health conditions deteriorated due to long-term diabetes and finally cancer. He was admitted to the hospital at Magazine Prison in Colombo. He was later transferred to Welikade Prison Hospital and finally to Colombo National Hospital.

Even though his sufferings became evident, the SL regime of Maithiripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe was not prepared to release him.

The Rajapaksa regime, both the previous and the current government, were also not prepared to release him.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was only considering to transform the detainees who didn’t have cases against them. The rights activists say there were only two Tamil detainees who were yet to face any charges.

The judiciary of the occupying SL State has convicted 54 of 89 known cases of TPPs (including those who were detained until 2015). Twelve of them have received capital or life sentences. Cases are pending for 33. Only two of the known 89 cases are yet to get charges against them. One of them is a female who is languishing at Welikade prison.

A large number of TPPs are in Colombo Magazine Prison. Six are at Anuradhapura, three males at Welikade, two at Mahara, two in Negombo and one at Colombo Remand Prison, Tamil activists say.

The SL State is not prepared to release those who are ‘convicted’ or facing charges. The incumbent SL President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was only prepared to release if there were anyone who were yet to face any charge. There are only two prisoners, Kugathasan and Harchandran, from the old TPPs, who are yet to face any charge.

Among those ‘convicted’ 18 have appealed against the verdict.

In addition to the 89 TPPs, there are at least 11 more Tamils who have been detained recently on the allegation of ‘regrouping’ the LTTE, the activists further said.

* * *

Mahendran was born on 18 April 1974 among a family of seven children, four girls and three boys in the village of Mu’rak-koddaagn-cheanai in Batticaloa. Their father is from the toddy tapping community, but he could not climb trees. He would buy and sell toddy, and he could not earn much of an income.

The family lived in extreme poverty and shifted to Vanthaa’rumoolai, hoping to improve their economic situation. Due to poverty, none of the children in the family attended school except Mahendran who went to school till the age of ten, yet his literacy was also reduced.

Soon after leaving the LTTE, Mahendran had fallen in love with a girl and they soon married. By this time his family has shifted back to Mu’rak-koddaagn-cheanai, but Mahendran lived with the girl in her parents’ family home.

They would have lived together for only three days when there was a massive roundup of young men by the Sri Lanka Army. Mahendran was also caught up in this roundup. The practice of the Sri Lankan military those days was to use Tamils with their faces covered to identify those with LTTE connection. Mahendran was recognised and taken away.

Notorious SL Military intelligence commander Major Rizvy Zacky (a close associate of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Foneskea and who later became a Director of the SL Military Intelligence with Brigadier rank) along with other operatives, Mammoty, Captain Monaz, Piyantha and the Tamil operative Kandaiah Yoharasa alias PLOTE Mohan, interrogated him. Their torture went on for one month following the arrest at Maavadi-vempu in Batticaloa.

Mahendran’s confession was ‘produced’ during the torture. He was beaten with boots on the face, and his face was swollen for one month.

Mahendran’s hands were tied, and he was subjected to waterboarding torture. Polythene bag was put over his head and tightened around his neck. He was stripped naked and beaten on the chest severely with a baton. Furthermore, he was ordered to wash the clothes of the military and polish their shoes.

Based on the confessions obtained through the torture, he was charged and sentenced to life and a further 70 years imprisonment. He appealed the case. The 70-year imprisonment sentence was reduced to ten years, but not the life-imprisonment.

In his 2007 affidavit, Mahendran also says that over a period of one year from 1993, when he was in the Batticaloa prison, he saw more than fifteen people tortured and killed and their bodies dumped into a well at the prison in Batticaloa.

The family holds a notebook given to them by the courts where it states the punishment he has been given. Yet, there is nothing written in the journal about the crime for which the punishment meted out to him.

According to the affidavit, Mahendran's PTA detainee number was K-63, ‘convicted’ prisoner number Y13139 and he was registered with the ICRC with number 00108357.

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