Efforts on to Secure Pardon for Fishermen
COLOMBO: Determined efforts are on at the highest diplomatic levels to secure a Sri Lankan Presidential pardon for the five Tamil Nadu fishermen who had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking, top sources told Express here on Wednesday.
“Though an appeal has been filed, serious efforts are on to secure a pardon. Pardon is far better than life imprisonment,” a key source said.
Meanwhile, the counsel for the fishermen, S.Anil Silva, said that if there is a firm assurance of pardon, he will withdraw the appeal. But he added that he had not received any instruction to withdraw the appeal.
No move yet from Rajapaksa
However, Lankan Presidential spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said that no moves had been made by the Lankan President to pardon the fishermen.
” The case is still in court and has not reached finality. Giving pardon also involves a long legal procedure,” Samaranayake explained.
Express understands that India would not have filed the appeal if there had been a credible offer of a pardon from the Lankan President. Apparently, there had not been any such offer.
By all accounts, Rajapaksa had not said that he would pardon the fishermen when he talked to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday.
The President had told select English language newspaper editors that very day, that he had told Modi that he would lessen the sentence to life imprisonment and transfer the sentenced men to India to serve the sentence there. Not a word was uttered about pardoning the fishermen.
The appeal was filed also because the prosecution’s case was weak, and the fishermen’s counsel was confident that he would be able to get the conviction nullified at the Court of Appeal. This option looked better than agreeing to life imprisonment.
As per Lankan law, prisoners sentenced to death cannot be transferred to any other country. This means that either the Lankan judiciary or the President, should reduce the death sentence to life imprisonment. The judiciary can do this on the basis of an appeal, but the judgment may take months to come. If the President were to take a decision on pardoning them, he has to first call for reports from the judge who had sentenced the accused to death; then the Attorney general and finally, the Minister of Justice.
According to political observers, both Rajapaksa and Modi are under a political compulsions albeit different. While Rajapaksa cannot be seen to be bowing to Big Brother India a mere month or so before a Presidential election in which he is a candidate, Modi needs to show to Tamil Nadu that he can secure justice for the innocent fishermen and be a credible alternative to the Dravidian parties and the Congress in the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.
S.Emerson, P.Augustus, R.Wilson, K.Prasath and J.Langlet, all from Rameswaram, along with three North Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen, were sentenced to death on October 30, by Colombo High Court judge Padman Surasena on charges of trafficking 995 gm of heroin.
The five Indians and the three Lankans had been arrested by the Lankan navy in Lankan waters off Delft Island in the night of November 28, 2011. They are currently lodged at the Welikada prison in Colombo.
Posted by Rohan Kar for Android