South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

24 years in prison; misinterpretation, says prisoner in FR petition

By Susitha R. Fernando

In a shocking revelation, a Fundamental Rights application revealed that a person is serving a 117-year of Rigorous Imprisonment for offences he was said to have committed as a child.

The petitioner, who has already served 24 years in jail since he was 16, said that many of the offences had not been committed by him. He claimed that he was forced to undergo the sorrowful plight due to the injustices caused by the officers of judicial and criminal justice system of the country.

R. A. Jayampathy Perera claimed that as an underage, the police forced him to plead guilty for some of the offences not committed by him, while Magistrates were confused as to whether to sentence him considering his age on the date of the offences alleged to have committed by him or the age on the date the sentences were imposed.

Finally at the Prison Department, the prison authorities had interpreted the sentences and imposed consecutive sentences whereas the orders against him were to be spent concurrently.

Filing on behalf of Jayampathy Perera Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD) complained that various Magistrates had sentenced him disregarding his age, below sixteen year. “One Magistrate had imposed five years rigorous imprisonment for an alleged theft he was said to have committed when just 12 years of age, petition stated.

Jayampathy’s story

Jayampathy born on May 14, 1964 had been born to family victimized by a drunkard father and he and his mother had to suffer severally and had to undergo starvation as the father would quarrel at home and prevent them from taking their meals on time. Though good at studies, father had tried to burn his books and school bag  pouring kerosene oil. Later mother was compelled to work as a labourer and Jayampathy, returned from school had to wait hungry until she cooked whenever she come back from work.

Unable to bear this one day he had plucked vegetable from a plot of his relatives in the vicinity and had sold them to buy something to eat. He had continued to do this and whenever he was caught he was assaulted and tied to a tree until his mother came and rescue in the evening.

As he could not continue this he had taken up to begging and gradually forgotten the school. But later when his mother come to know he had

stopped and started to collect scrap iron with his mother and elder brothers.

However at the age of 14 there were 24 complaints made against Jayampathy and all minor thefts of which the culprits could be identified were put to his account by the police.

His first conviction had been on April 25, 1979 by Mount Lavinia Magistrate when he was convicted together with his mother for a theft of a pair of scissors and Rs. 500 and he had been warned and discharged. Again on October 4, 1979 he had pleaded guilty for a theft and was sent to Pannipitiya Detention Home and after spending some time he had run away from there. In February 1981 he had been arrested by Mirihana police and there a Sub Inspector had forced him to plead guilty as he would be treated as juvenile offender and impose a 3 year sentence even though he had committed one or hundred offences.

Subsequently he had pleaded for 14 cases at the Gangodawila Magistrate on February 16, 1981 without being represented by a lawyer.

In all the 14 cases the magistrate had imposed various imprisonment which were to be spent concurrently only within a period of 4 years and eight months. But the prison authorities had calculated it to be 64 years.

However according to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act a Magistrate could impose only a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding two years, legal sources said.

Subsequently he had been convicted by various magistrate courts including Moratuwa, Mount Lavinia, Ratnapura , Avissawella, Homagama  and Pelmadulla for offences of burglary and theft and they were alleged to have committed when he was below the age of 16 years, the age limit which he was entitled to be tried and sentence under the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance or Youthful Offenders Training Schools Ordinance as most of the offences had been committed when he was a child of 12 and 15 years of age. However Jayampathy instead had been treated as a hardcore adult criminal, attorney Kanchana Priyadarshani who filed the for LHRD stated.

However, having spent eight years in prison, on February 1989, Jayampathy had been released by the License Board on condition. Thereafter he had got married in 1991 and had three children. But however much he had tried to live a decent life it had not been easy as the police had several time arrested him on false allegations and later released claiming that they had made a mistake and the real culprits had been arrested.

In 1994 Jayampthay had been arrested again and four cases filed in Bandaragma Magistrates court who imposed five years simple imprisonment on each case together with five more years for escaping from the prison and all the sentences to be spent concurrently.

But the prison authorities who interpreted it as jail terms to be spent consecutively made Jayampathy to languish for 25 years.

Further in violation of the Licence Board conditions Jayampathy was made to spend total of 142 years together with the earlier 117 years.

In his Fundamental Rights application, he complained that grave injustices had been caused due to various authorities of the criminal justice system. Jayampathy claimed he was mislead by the police to plead guilty to a large number of cases he had not committed promising him that he would be imposed short term imprisonment to be spent concurrently. The Magistrates had imposed sentences disregarding his age and finally the prison authorities had miscalculated his jail terms imposed on him on the basis that they were to be spent consecutively.

The cited Minster of Justice Athaude Seneviratne, Minster of Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms, D. E. W. Gunsekera, Minster of Child Development, Tissa Karaliyadda, The Commissioner of Prison, the Secretary Judicial Service Commission and the Attorney General.

He asked the Supreme Court to order on the relevant authorities to release him and lay down suitable guidelines to be followed by all judicial authorities in sentencing underage offenders.

Source: The Daily Mirror – 25.10.2010