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Mandela Shield pits prisoners against law students

KANDY (SE): Inspired by a debate that took place in the Eastern New York Correctional Services Facility in the United States of America last year, where a team made up of prisoners talked a team from Harvard University into the ground on the topic of whether schools should have the right to deny places to undocumented persons, the Kandy Human Rights Office in Sri Lanka is taking up the challenge.

Father Nandana Manatunga is organising the Mandela Shield, a debating tournament between residents of the Pallekelle Bogambara Prison and the Peradeniya Law Faculty.

The director of the Kandy Human Rights Office described the upcoming event as a milestone in the campaign for rights for prisoners in the country.

Taking the former president of South Africa as a role model for his 27 years of incarceration, Father Manatunga told the Sunday Examiner that his ambition is to crush stereotypes that are attached to prisoners and contribute to the creation of a healthy environment where human dignity can be recognised.

The law faculty at Peradeniya University in Kandy has a proud history. The university was established in 1942 as the University of Ceylon, but the law faculty was usurped in 1960 and taken to Colombo, where it  developed into the most prestigious in the country.

Its revival in Kandy 2009 is a source of pride in the city and a sign that life is regenerating after long years of civil war.

Pallekelle Bogambara Prison in Kandy is a relatively new construction, but has a history dating back to 1876. It was moved from the architecturally famous old Bogambara Prison in 2013.

The Mandela Shield will pit the law faculty, which will propose that the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka, including the police, law courts and prisons are adequate, satisfactory and effective in addressing crime, against the prison team, which will oppose the motion.

Father Manatunga says that people in prisons are despised by the majority in Sri Lanka and those who have been released are stigmatised by society.

He added that the wider society fails to empathise with them, as it does not understand or know about their untold stories.

It is hoped that the Mandela Shield will help address the successes and failures of the prison system and stimulate public discussion on the many problems that plague it.

The Daily Mirror reported that there are 17,000 people in 38 Sri Lankan prisons and Pallekelle Bogambara Prison has 1,200 from which the debating team can be picked.

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