Will 5 Fishermen Get Rajapaksa Lifeline?
NEW DELHI/COLOMBO: On a day when speculation was rife on the possibility of bringing back five Tamil Nadu fishermen, who were recently sentenced to death by a Sri Lankan court, India clarified that there was still “no conclusion” on the path forward.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the matter, which was confirmed by the latter’s office, but there was no official word from the foreign office in Delhi, perhaps because of the fluid situation.
It was BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who set off the speculation by tweeting, “Namo and Rajapaksa spoke on the phone yesterday & agreed to process papers & transfer 5 fishermen convicted to Indian jail. I am vindicated!”
In Colombo, Lankan Presidential spokesperson Mohan Samaranayake revealed that Rajapaksa called Modi on Sunday to tell him that he would explore the possibility of transferring the fishermen to India under the India-Sri Lanka Sentenced Prisoners Transfer Agreement of June 2010.
But a few hours later, the foreign office in Delhi denied that there was a breakthrough. “At this stage, we have not reached a conclusion on the avenues that we are proceeding forward with,” said MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin. Stating that India was still exploring a “variety of avenues”, Akbaruddin said these avenues were “in accordance with the Sri Lankan legal system and the Sri Lankan executive role in the process”.
Highly circumspect, he noted that “it was a delicate matter” and “therefore I would hate to tell you anything which is so delicate that it could adversely impinge on anything.”
The Indian High Commission obtained a copy of the judgment of the Sri Lankan lower court and was looking into it.
He added that India and Sri Lanka have a relationship in which both sides understand each other’s needs and concerns. “Any effort that we make with good friend in SL is always reciprocated,” he said.
The India-Lanka accord on prisoner transfer does not provide for those on the death row. For the five fishermen to be brought to India, President Rajapaksa or the Lankan Court of Appeal needs to commute the sentence to at least life, said S Anil Silva, India’s counsel for the fishermen.
Determined efforts are being made by Silva to get the conviction nullified at the appeal stage. He is confident of success as he believes that the prosecution’s case is replete with loopholes.
Silva’s office said the appeal was to be filed on Monday but was not because the Indian High Commission decided to send the papers to Modi’s office for advice. However, there is time till November 30 to file the appeal.
Legal circles in Colombo are generally of the view that the issue has become a highly political and bilateral matter.
Death row hurdle for pact to kick in
India has an agreement for exchange of sentenced persons with Sri Lanka, but to activate that in this case would require the death sentence to be commuted to life. There have been two cases in the past where the Sri Lankan president had commuted the death sentence of two Indians to life. Following that, they were returned to India under the bilateral pact last year. But the pact can be invoked only after the entire legal process has been completed.
Posted by Rohan Kar for Android