ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 7, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 19

Lankan visitor to Madurai jail shot dead by prison guard

By K. Venkataramanan

Chennai, Saturday: In a tragic incident that may have diplomatic reverberations, a Sri Lankan national who had come to see his jailed compatriots in a Tamil Nadu prison was shot dead by a prison guard on Friday. The shooting apparently took place following a misunderstanding over the man's attempt to enter through a gate not meant for visitors.

Warnakulasooriya Canicius Fernando, 44, a fisherman from Negombo had come to the Central Prison in Madurai, about 550 km from Chennai, to visit some fishermen arrested by the Indian Coast Guard some months ago and jailed for trespassing into Indian waters, police said.

The jail superintendent, in a complaint to the police about the incident, said Mr. Fernando had come to a 'restricted entry' instead of the usual visitors' entry, and allegedly failed to reply to questions by a prison guard or stand still when asked to do so. As he rushed towards the guard, the latter had opened fire from his self-loading rifle.

Prison Guard D. Devaraj, who had fired at Mr. Fernando, was still on duty today. Additional Director General of Police (Prisons), R. Sekar, when contacted, said an inquiry by an executive magistrate had been ordered, and any action against the guard would be taken only if the probe resulted in any findings against him. “We will go by the recommendation of the inquiry,” he said.

Information available so far indicates that Mr. Fernando was innocent, and was unlikely to have had any ulterior motive in approaching the restricted entrance. Mr. Fernando was a member of the All-Ceylon Fishermen Union, and had come to Chennai as a representative of the owner of the boat apprehended by the Coast Guard.

The fishing vessel, Devdu Prasamsa, with four crew members, was caught on June 13, 2007 off the coast of Tuticorin in south Tamil Nadu. The four suspects -- all Sri Lankan fishermen -- were charged under provisions of the Maritime Zone (Protection) Act and the Indian Passport Act. They were sentenced to four months' imprisonment. The term is due to end on Monday.

Mr. Fernando had come to receive them on their release and try to get the vessel back from the prison authorities. He had taken a letter of recommendation from the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission here and proceeded to Tuticorin, about 200 km south of Madurai, and booked a hotel room. He went to Madurai to visit the prisoners in jail. He had obtained permission on Friday morning to see them, and was granted permission for 3 p.m. However, he reached the wrong entrance.

According to the police, Mr. Fernando was carrying his passport, his hotel room key and a return ticket to Colombo. It was clear that he was not planning to commit any offence. When asked whether Sri Lanka was planning to raise the issue with India at a diplomatic level, Sri Lanka's Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, P. M. Hamza, told The Pioneer that he was awaiting instructions from Colombo.“We are shocked by the incident. He was there for a legitimate purpose,” Hamza said.

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