The ordeal of five innocent fishermen, who were arrested in Sri Lankan waters in November last year, continues. There is a shift in venue though: the five, along with three other fishermen, were shifted to the city’s Welikada prison, ahead of their hearings in the Colombo High Court.
“Their first hearing was today. It will again come up on November 20,” said Arulanandam, fishermen’s cooperative leader, who has been following the case, over phone from Ramanathapuram.
The five fishermen from Tamil Nadu – Emerson, Agustus, Wilson, Longlite and Prasad from Thangachimadam in Rameswaram - were arrested in Sri Lankan waters on the night of November 28, 2011. Later, the five were accused by the Sri Lankan Navy of carrying “a packet” to deliver in Sri Lanka. The packet, which the Sri Lankan Navy claims that it found on the fishing vessel, was sent for laboratory examination – after some delay – and the report has been presented to the Court. The fishermen have refused to “confess” they had carried anything to Sri Lanka.
They were initially held in Jaffna prison. The Indian Consulate there had moved a bail application early this year on behalf of the accused five. The bail application was dismissed.
A few months after they were held, another case of three fishermen transporting a “packet” had come to light. The three were arrested and one of them has admitted that he had indeed accepted a parcel from a friend in India in exchange for cash. All the eight fishermen are now in Colombo.
A statement attributed to the former Indian External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, that there were no genuine fishermen in Sri Lankan custody, added to the woes of the fishermen.
India and Sri Lanka have signed an agreement to repatriate fishermen of either country who stray into the other’s territory. More often than not, it is the Indian fishermen, who cross the International Maritime Boundary Line and fish in Sri Lankan waters. Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen have accused the Indian fishermen of destroying their livelihood with their environmentally destructive bottom trawling. The Indian fishermen also cut through the Sri Lankan fishing nets when they fish in Sri Lankan waters, another act which has created much resentment among local fishermen here.