He had served time at the Welikada prison

Hussain Mouval, a 42-year-old resident of Kasaragod, appeared as if he had stepped out of a nightmare when he alighted at the international airport here on Friday morning.

He had served a sentence of 13 years at the Welikada Maximum Security Central Prison, Baseline Road, Colombo, for smuggling heroin to the Island nation and had been escorted back home to serve the rest of his time in a State prison here.

In the early 2000s, Sri Lankan authorities had arrested at least six Keralites, among them Hussain, on the charge of smuggling heroin to Sri Lanka from mainland India.

Militancy was its peak then and it was no secret that the LTTE sourced heroin from Afghanistan and smuggled it through India and Sri Lanka to South Asian destinations to fund its war against the country. Officials of the Home Department said four of the Keralites had willingly smuggled heroin to Sri Lanka for “unknown persons” in return for an employment visa in the Gulf or hard cash. Two were “innocent carriers”. Their visa providers had stashed heroin in their check-in baggage without their knowledge.

Deputy Inspector General of Prisons H. Gopakumar and Superintendent of Central Jail B. Pradeep carried with them two steel handcuffs when they boarded the flight to Colombo to escort the prisoners home (two at a time) as part of the India-Sri Lanka bilateral Agreement on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. However, when they met the men and heard their tale, they were reluctant to handcuff them on the journey back home.

“But we stuck to the law”, Mr. Pradeep said.

The men had spent between 5 to 10 years in the crowded prison, which was meant for 1,500 inmates, but actually held more than 4,500, about 170 of them on death roll. (The total number of inmates in all prisons in Kerala is 6,500).

On November 12 last, the men narrowly escaped death when Sri Lankan forces stormed the 172-year-old prison to quell a prison riot. The violence left over 27 dead. Hussain and other inmates sat out the riot cooped in a dark, humid, ill-ventilated dormitory for convicted foreign nationals. They lay prostrate on the floor, “thinking of home”, as screams, crackle of automatic gunfire and blasts, and flashes from exploding stun grenades rocked the prison.

At Welikada, the men learnt tailoring, carpentry, and bread making. They said the jailors gave them a special diet, which included fish and rice on four days and chicken and eggs on other days.

Indian officers and the men had a word of praise for the prison’s Superintendent, Gamini Jaya Singhe, who helped expedite the transfer of the prisoners. The Sri Lankan government issued them temporary passports with a warning that they were “on the immigration black-list and banned from re-entering Sri Lanka”.

The jailors allowed the men to have a few minutes alone with their families in the heavily guarded prison precincts.

  • Sri Lanka had arrested at least 6 Keralites

  • LTTE used to smuggle heroin to fund its war