'Sri Lanka's Prison Population Exceeds 20500: Over 11000 In Pre-Trial Detention:' UN Working Group

Issuing its preliminary findings from its visit to Sri lanka, the UN  Working group on arbitrary detention has underscored some serious issues in the government's law enforcement system, urging the government to adopt immediate measures to resolve them.

"According to information received, the current prison population of Sri Lanka is 20,598, of which 11,009 are held in pre-trial detention. Over half of the present Sri Lankan prison population is awaiting trial, which is exceptionally high.  It is common for pre-trial detention to continue for 3-4 years and in some instances longer, even up to 10 years, and it is often followed by a lengthy trial," the report added.

It also says the time spent in pre-trial detention is not always taken into account when the final sentence is calculated, and is left to the discretion of the judge. People on remand are held in dire conditions and often choose to plead guilty to expedite the proceedings.

 In a number of cases,the report said, accused persons have spent numerous years in pre-trial detention but were subsequently acquitted and released from prison without any acknowledgement of the wrongful imprisonment or compensation for the years spent in custody.

The report further stated, "Such a long pre-trial detention in itself is incompatible with article 9 of the ICCPR and the Government of Sri Lanka must take effective steps to reduce it by: (i) promoting the use of bail and other alternatives to detention; (ii) expediting investigations; and (iii) expediting court proceedings by ensuring that there are sufficient prosecutors and judges in the country.  Time spent in custody during the pre-trial stage must always be taken into account when the final custodial sentence is determined."

"Numerous alarming allegations were received concerning the use of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment by the police, including the CID and TID, in order to obtain confessions from detainees, either to facilitate the investigation or in certain instances to be used as evidence in court.  Any confession should be made before a judge who must ensure that it was given without coercion.  This safeguard must be understood in terms of the absence of any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure from the investigating authorities on the accused, with a view to obtaining a confession of guilt."

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