Fishermen on death row freed

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa commutes sentence of all five

Updated - November 16, 2021 07:00 pm IST

Published - November 19, 2014 05:19 pm IST - Colombo

The five Indian fishermen are seen with Indian High Commission officials in Colombo after their release on Wednesday. Arrangements are being made for their early return to India, officials said. Photo: Special Arrangement.

The five Indian fishermen are seen with Indian High Commission officials in Colombo after their release on Wednesday. Arrangements are being made for their early return to India, officials said. Photo: Special Arrangement.

The five Indian fishermen on death row in Sri Lanka on drug-trafficking charges, walked free on Wednesday, after President Mahinda Rajapaksa used his executive powers to commute their death penalty.

The five have been released into the care of the Indian High Commission before being sent back to India, an official said. It is learnt that they will serve no further jail term in India. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision on the release appears to be a commutation of the fishermen’s sentence to the term already served.

The gesture, described by the Indian High Commission here as humanitarian, ended three weeks of uncertainty over their fate, after the Colombo High Court sentenced them to death on October 30. It follows intense diplomatic activity, which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking to Mr. Rajapaksa on November 9, and several behind-the-scenes talks.

The five fishermen — Emerson, P. Augustus, R. Wilson, K. Prasath and J. Langlet, all hailing from Tamil Nadu — were apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy in November 2011. Three Sri Lankan fishermen were also sentenced to death with them.

In addition to New Delhi taking up the Indian fishermen’s case through diplomatic channels, an appeal was filed on their behalf in the Colombo High Court on November 11.

While the diplomatic negotiations were on, the President’s office announced that the withdrawal of the appeal by the Indian side was a pre-requisite for any decision on the release.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Sri Lankan fishermen’s sentence stands. The three fishermen have not withdrawn their appeal, The Hindu learns from sources in Colombo’s legal circles.

The President’s decision to free the Indian fishermen comes at a time when Sri Lanka awaits a proclamation on Presidential elections widely expected to be held early January.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party of Buddhist monks, has been consistently voicing concern over drug smuggling and the government’s inability to curb it. The JHU (National Heritage Party) on Tuesday quit President Rajapaksa’s government, protesting the reluctance to implement constitutional changes.

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