Colombo/New Delhi: Five Indian fishermen have been awarded death penalty by a Sri Lankan court for alleged drug trafficking. The five fishermen, all hailing from Tamil Nadu, had been arrested on a boat in the seas off northern Jaffna’s Delft islet.
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. Reacting to the order, a Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “We will take up this matter. The judgment was passed by a lower court. We will challenge it in the upper court.” The MEA spokesperson also said that India has been pursuing the case at both levels — legal and official — and will continue doing so.
The fishermen have been given time till November 14 to appeal at the Sri Lankan Supreme Court.
Sri Lanka keeps 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.
Political parties and fishermen in Tamil Nadu on Thursday reacted with anger to the judgment. Soon after the verdict became public here, angry fishermen set fire to a state bus and cut down trees on the road leading to the famed Pamban near Rameswaram in south Tamil Nadu.
The fishermen claimed that the five were innocent and were caught near Kachatheevu while fishing. “When Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa came to India recently he promised to release all Tamil fishermen from jail but he has now awarded them death. This is betrayal of the third order,” said Albert, an elderly fisherman.
Bagyaselvi, the wife of Augustise, one of the convicted fishermen, told journalists that her husband had called her recently saying he will be back. “I was very hopeful after that but now my world is shattered. I pray to the Indian government to save his life and that of others. Three Lankan fishermen who were arrested with them have testified that my husband was innocent,”’ she said.
Political reactions were also sharp. DMK spokesman TKS Elangovan said the Indian government should intervene and save the fishermen. BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan said they were concerned about their lives. “All we hear is they are poor fishermen and we don’t even know if the case is genuine,” she said.
MDMK leader Vaiko also called for governmental intervention.