So, after my post on the Carandiru massacre of 1992, I’ve decided to look for notorious prisons on Google Earth. The unattractive-looking place above is called Welikada Prison, and it’s located in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. There has been a prison on this site since 1841, originally built by the British. Like many prisons in the Third World (or the developed world, for that matter), it’s horrendously overcrowded, with 1700 prisoners more than it was built to accommodate.
A few months ago, on November 9, 2012, authorities–including paramilitary units–began a systematic search of the prison for weapons, drugs and mobile phones. Some violent incidents connected to this search got out of control, and eventually prisoners in the maximum security wing rioted and took the place over. After the inmates got their hands on some assault rifles the army was called in to surround the place. When they stormed it on the morning of November 10, 27 people were dead. Authorities call it necessary; human rights groups have called for an investigation.
There has been trouble at Welikada before. In July 1983, another riot took place, evidently begun by ethnic tensions which have been the cause of terrible violence in Sri Lanka for many years. Fifty-two died in the 1983 riot. Sri Lanka has a history of other bloody prison riots over the years, suggesting something is seriously wrong with their penal system. (Not that there isn’t with the American system either).