We can work it out if India makes a request: Rajapaksa

For 43 Indian convicts in the Welikada prison here, there is one small bit of good news – they can complete the remaining term of their sentences in India.

Following up on the Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments about nine months ago, the Indian High Commission here has sent out consent forms to the prisoners.

“Once they fill up the forms and return it to us, we will formally begin the process of getting them back to India where they will serve out their sentences,” an official here said.

The agreement is not applicable to under-trial prisoners. By that yardstick, three of the 43, who were arrested recently could be held back. “From our end, we have completed the processes. We have to wait for them [the Sri Lankan authorities] to decide on the eligible prisoners and communicate it to us,” the official said.

President's view

When President Mahinda Rajapaksa was asked if there was any problem in handing over the Indian citizens imprisoned in jails here, he said there was no such problem. His government was willing to send prisoners to their countries of origin. “We can work it out if the Indian side makes a request,” he said.

There has been no release of prisoners in the recent past and almost all the Indians in prison were arrested for offences relating to possession of drugs. Some had served more than a decade-and-half in prison. They have to last out another similar period before hoping to get out – either here or in India. “Most of the drug offenders get very lengthy terms. That is the only way to keep people out of this nasty business of transporting drugs,” the official said.

Lured by the promise of making quick money, many Indians act as “carriers” between India and other foreign destinations — carrying contraband, precious metals, drugs and other banned items. While a few make it across the immigration and customs counters in foreign airports, many get caught.

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the world, has stringent prison terms for those caught carrying drugs.

A prisoner speaks

Speaking to The Hindu through a representative, a prisoner said they were all in prison for very long years. “True, we were greedy. We realise the seriousness of what we have done. I hope our government does something to get us out of here. We are poor and were forced to get into this,” he said.

Those in prison, some of them from Kerala, have tried reaching everyone in authority in Kerala and elsewhere so that their case is considered quickly, especially in the light of the agreement on prisoners. “At least our families can meet us there. We request the governments to help us get back to India,” the prisoner said.

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