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Anton Philip Sinnarasa

I remember that in 1983 the whole of Colombo was burning. I can remember air. The whole sky was filled with darkness and fire. This is story of how a few others and myself survived the Welikade Prison massacre.

The prison was built by the British in the 18th century. I was detained there under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for withholding information. There were 8 others there with me, including a catholic priest, Fr. A. Singarayar, Dr Tharmalingham, who was the president of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (a political party) and his secretary, Mr. Kovai Mahesan. The group also included two people from the “Ghandiam Movement”, Dr. Somasundaram Rajasundaram and his associate MR. S.A. David. The two of them had been helping the state Tamils who were settled in Vawania. The other members of the group were Dr. Jeyakularajah, Rev. Jeyatilekarajah, and Mr. M.Nithyanandan. They were all being detained under a various charges.

We heard that there was an incident in Jaffna on July 23rd. We also heard that bodies were being brought into Colombo on the 25th; and while those funerals were taking place at Kanette cemetery the riots broke out. On the evening on the 25th, the nine of us were put into the maximum security section of the prison, also called the Youth Offenders Section.

Around this time, there were also 65 other political prisoners held in another section, called the Chapel section. From an aerial view this section looks like a cross, that is why it is called the chapel section. It has 4 wings and in one of these wings, they kept important political prisoners like Kuttimani and Thangathurai.

I remember that on the first day, the 25th, we were brought outside of our cell and we could see that the whole sky was in smoke. There were big riots taking place outside. We also heard that there was a lot of burning and killing going on.

That evening, we a heard a lot of screaming and crying. We quickly found out that there was an attack on the political prisoners in the Chapel section. All the Singhalese criminals were let out. They took whatever they could, and they were killing the Tamil prisoners. 35 people were massacred on this day.

Meanwhile, in the section we were in, there were nine cells on the first floor. On the second floor there was an open hall with one gate and one door. On the 26th, my group was moved up to the second floor without explanation. We learned that the survivors of the Chapel massacre were moved into the cells on the first floor. Three people were placed into each cell. I heard many stories at this time about the people who had been killed, but I can only tell you about what happened to us.

On the 27th, the attack took place on the building we were in. The Singhalese criminals came and they broke all the locks. They came inside and began to take us from our cells. Luckily, they were unable to open up three cells, and as a result nine people survived.

Meanwhile, we could hear what was happening on the first floor, and that gave us a little time to prepare. On the second floor, we had a small table that was used to pray and celebrate mass. We broke this table and prepared to use its four legs as weapons to prevent the criminals from putting their hands on the gates. However, 20 to 30 criminals came upstairs and they immediately broke the padlocks and opened the gate. Dr.Rajasuntharam tried to reason with them but he was dragged outside, and he was killed on the spot. We immediately closed the gate to prevent them from coming back inside. We fought with only those 4 legs for nearly half an hour.

Eventually the army came in and fired tear gas. It was a closed building, so we were also affected, but they were able to chase the criminals outside. The soldiers came in with guns to see whether we too had done anything. We were asked to kneel down. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We thought that they were going to just finish us off! Luckily, a high ranking officer came and he ordered us all to leave.

We were affected very much with the tear gas. That was really the first time I realized what tear gas was. Later, we were taken down and we saw 18 or so dead bodies in front of the building. After a few hours, the eight of us and the other nine survivors from the first floor were taken to a truck. We were ordered to lie down in the truck. We were kept lying down in the truck the whole night without food. People were forced lie there not matter what they had to do. People were urinating and defecating where they lay. I can still remember that I only had a sarong and undershirt. The following morning, we were taken out, handcuffed, and then shipped in a small plane. Later, we realized that we had been taken to the Batticaloa Prison. We were let go two months later.

My family learnt of the massacre and even a funeral was held for me because I was on the list of the deceased For a time, my friends in India, who did not know that I survived, held many funeral remembrances.

Anton Philip Sinnarasa and his family is currently living in Canada where he works as a settlement worker.

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