The prospects of early release of five Thangachimadam fishermen, incarcerated in Welikada prison in Sri Lanka for more than a year, look bleak as the Colombo High court has adjourned the hearing to March 12 for examination of witnesses.

When the case came up for hearing before Justice Soorasena in the fourth court of Colombo High Court, the judge fixed March 12, 14, 15, 22 and April 3 for examination of 12 witnesses in the case, according to U. Arulanandam, president of the Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), fighting for the release of the fishermen.

Mr. Arulanandam, based in Pamban near here and has been championing the cause of both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen, was present in the Colombo High court, when the case came up for hearing. He had also met the five fishermen, languishing in the Welikada prison after they were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on November 29, 2011.

“It is pathetic to see the five fishermen under severe mental stress. Emarson, one of them, had even been hospitalised for two weeks for depression,” Mr. Arulanandam said. Emarson would not talk to others and refuse to take food, he said.

Emarson broke down, when he was shown the photograph of his new born daughter. His wife was pregnant when he was apprehended and he is yet to see the child, Mr. Arulanandam said. He is unaware that his younger brother, Zion (22) was killed in a train accident in Chennai in March last.

The fishermen expressed their dismay that the Indian government could not secure their release through diplomatic channels, Mr Arulanandam said. They looked dejected, when he explained that the High Court had to decide their case, he added.

Mr. Arulanandam said M.A. Sumanthiran, a prominent Sri Lankan human rights lawyer, had helped him to engage S. Anil Silva, former government lawyer, and Thamusan, a Tamil lawyer, to fight the case.

“The fishermen are innocent and I am confident that court would set them at liberty,” he told The Hindu. Mr Arunandam met the District Collector, K. Nanthakumar, here on Wednesday and briefed him of his Colombo visit. The Collector showed keen interest in helping the fishermen and offered to arrange for financial assistance towards meeting the legal expenses, he said.

The Neduntivu police had registered a case against the five fishermen under Sections 54 A and B of the Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance Act, 1984, read with section 218 of the Code of Procedure. After almost 12 months of incarceration, the charge sheet was filed on November 20, 2012.

Moved by the plights of the families of the five fishermen, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had recently presented solatium of Rs. 2 lakh each to the five families.

The government was also providing a daily assistance of Rs.250 each to their families. It had also sanctioned Rs.2 lakh towards payment of legal fee.