India is making a strong diplomatic push for a presidential pardon of the five Indian fishermen who were recently sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court, The Hindu has learnt.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa telephoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday and their talks “centred on the fishermen’s sentence,” sources in the President’s office said on Monday.
Sri Lanka is more inclined to consider a commutation of the sentence to enable the transfer of the five men to serve out a life sentence in an Indian jail.
But Sri Lanka has not made a final decision either way, and the sources said a decision would be unlikely before the January elections.
The issue of drug smuggling and the government’s inability to curb is high on the agenda of Jathika Hela Urumaya, a party of Buddhist monks allied to the ruling alliance.
Take “political” view of fishermen case: India
India wants Sri Lanka to take a “political” rather than a “legalistic” view of the case of the five Indian fishermen sentenced to death by a court in that country, sources said on Monday.
Sri Lanka is learnt to have conveyed to India that at the moment, the best option would be to approach the court of appeals.
The appeal is likely to be filed on Tuesday, according to sources. According to the sources, any “political” decision on the issue would come only after the presidential elections, the likely date for which is January 2. Certain to create a political controversy, a decision at this stage will also raise legal questions if it does not include the three Sri Lankans who are also sentenced to death in the case.
In New Delhi, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin refused to confirm or deny the Modi-Rajapaksa phone conversation but said the issue of the five fishermen was a “delicate matter” and was being given the “highest priority.”
“We are pursuing all avenues. We have not reached a situation or a stage where we could say that the case has reached a happy conclusion,” said Mr. Akbaruddin. Without elaborating on the discussions, he said, “These avenues are being pursued in accordance with Sri Lanka’s legal system and Sri Lanka’s executive role in the process.”
Sri Lankan lawyer S. Anil Silva — engaged by the Indian High Commission to appear for the fishermen — said their case was strong, and could be proved with available GPS data.
(With additional reporting by Walter Scott in Rameswaram.)
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