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Sri Lanka gives death penalty to five Indian fishermen

COLOMBO: Five Indian fishermen were given the death penalty by a Sri Lankan court on Thursday for alleged drug trafficking, invoking a sharp reaction from India which took up the matter with Sri Lanka and said it would appeal to a higher court against the judgement within 14 days.

The five Indians are among a group of eight people sentenced to death by Colombo High Court judge Preethi Padman Surasena for alleged involvement in heroin trafficking between India and Sri Lanka in 2011. The rest three are Sri Lankans.

However, the Indian government, which has been pursuing their case for the last four years, maintains that it has done due diligence and found them to be innocent.

Immediately reacting to the Sri Lankan court verdict, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin in New Delhi said, “After the judgement against five fishermen by lower court in Sri Lanka, India once again takes up matter of their innocence with Sri Lanka and India's High Commission in Colombo will appeal to higher court through a lawyer against the verdict".

While a senior MEA official spoke to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India in New Delhi, the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo was getting in touch with the Sri Lankan government regarding the case.

The spokesperson further said that India has been pursuing the case at two levels - legal and official - and will continue doing so. “India-Sri Lanka are in constant touch in aftermath of the judgement against the Indian fishermen,” he added.

The five fishermen, all hailing from Tamil Nadu, were apprehended in 2011 by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of smuggling of drugs in the seas off northern Jaffna's Delft islet.

The issue of fishermen is a very emotive matter for both Sri Lanka and India, where Tamil Nadu-based parties including AIADMK and DMK have been regularly pressing the Centre to take up the matter with the Lankan authorities seriously and have often resented high-profile visits from the island nation.

Sri Lanka has been alleging that Indian fishermen regularly stray into its waters depriving local fishermen of their livelihood. The two countries are separated by the narrow Palk Strait which is also a rich fishing ground.

Later, the MEA spokesperson in New Delhi further said the case of the five Indian fishermen - Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath and J Langlet, who were apprehended on November 28, 2011, by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of narcotics smuggling, have always maintained their innocence.

The Indian government through the High Commission of India, Colombo and the Consulate General of India, Jaffna has been extending all possible consular assistance to them, he said.

“Government of India is fully committed to continue providing all assistance to the Indian fishermen. The lawyers of the Indian fishermen will file an appeal to the next court of appeal within the prescribed 14 days,” the spokesperson said.