The Sunday Leader

India Flooded With Joy

  • Lanka Releases Fishermen

By Camelia Nathaniel

Four years of deep sorrow ended on Wednesday (19-11-2014) for the families of the five Tamil Nadu fishermen who were languishing in Welikada prison facing the danger of life imprisonment if not death at the gallows. Thanks to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, smiles reappeared on the faces of the wives, sisters, brothers, children and parents of the five young men “unfairly” charged of smuggling 995 gm of heroin into north Sri Lanka in November 2011.

Rajapaksa had unconditionally pardoned and released the five Indian fishermen who had been sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on October 30 this year.

 

Flown to Delhi for debriefing

On release, the fishermen were flown first to New Delhi and then to Chennai on Thursday. At New Delhi, External Affairs Ministry Joint Secretary, Suchitra Durai received them and taken to an undisclosed destination for a debriefing.

When the news of the pardon and release reached the families of the fishermen, the entire community in Thankachimadam, the hometown of the fishermen, erupted in joy with people hugging each other and passing on the information to everyone they came across and to neighbouring hamlets, reported an Indian newspaper.

“The merriment multiplied after Langlet (24) made his first phone call to his father John Britto, immediately after stepping out of the prison. His mother, Infranda, was next to talk to him in a choked voice. Infranda said that her son had just completed Class X, when he went for fishing along with the other four fishermen and got arrested by the Lankan navy on November 28, 2011.

December 6 is Langlet’s birthday. “We are planning a gala celebration on that day,” she said.

Lavenya, wife of Emerson, said this year’s Christmas would be one of the best as her husband would also be joining the festivities.

“I was pregnant when Emerson was arrested and taken away by the Lankan navy. So it is going to be an ecstatic moment for Emerson as he will be meeting his son for the first time,” she said.

The fishermen have received a Presidential pardon. They were released from prison and handed over to the Immigration authorities to be sent back to India.

 

India deeply grateful

In a press release posted on its website, the Indian High Commission profusely thanked President Rajapaksa for his “humanitarian gesture.”

“We are deeply grateful to His Excellency Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka, for this humanitarian gesture, which will further strengthen the strong and multi-faceted relations between India and Sri Lanka. It may be recalled that the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, and H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke on telephone on November 9, 2014.

“The High Commissioner of India, Shri Y. K. Sinha, met the five fishermen after their release to ascertain their well being. The High Commission is making necessary arrangements for the early return of the fishermen to India,” the release said.

Though the press release did not use the word “unconditional pardon”, and spoke only of a “release” officials in the know said that the matter and the case were closed. In other words, the fishermen would go to their homes in Rameswaram or wherever, and not to a prison in India to serve a life sentence there as it was thought earlier. All parties in Tamil Nadu, except the Marumalarchi Dravida Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Vaiko, thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for swinging the deal with Rajapaksa.

 

India lobbied hard

The pardon came at the end of vigorous efforts by Indian diplomats in Sri Lanka as well as the Headquarters in ‘South Block’ (the Indian Foreign Ministry) at New Delhi, to get them off the hook. Their case was that the fishermen were innocent. They explained the political consequences of a miscarriage of justice back home in India.

But Rajapaksa had his irons too in the political fire. He could not be seen bowing to India on a matter as grave as drug smuggling (995 gm of heroin as alleged in this case), a month or so before a Presidential election.

He had to decide this case at a time when the Jathika Hela Urumaya had broken away from the UPFA on the ground that the Rajapaksa regime had been soft on drug smugglers even those who had links to the Prime minister’s office apparently. The President, therefore, had to explore options like reducing the sentence to life imprisonment; sending the men to India to serve the sentence there; and then finally pardoning them after the January 2015 Presidential elections as one Indian daily put it.

But at the end of the day, the President apparently concluded that friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi should over-ride all other considerations.

 

The Indian case

Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath, and J Langlet, all fishermen from Rameswaram were sentenced to death by the Colombo high Court on October 30 for trying to smuggle 995 gm of heroin into North Sri Lanka with the help of three Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen on November 28, 2011.

The fishermen approached the Court of Appeal on November 11, 2014, to get the conviction set aside, even as India was lobbying hard through diplomatic channels to secure their release with a full Presidential pardon.

The Counsel for the fishermen, Anil Silva PC, told the Indian media that the prosecution had ignored crucial data from the GPS fitted in the Indian trawler.

The Indian media quoted him as saying: “As per the GPS data, the Indian trawler was 13 km away from the spot where the prosecution alleged, the transfer of heroin to a Sri Lankan boat had taken place. The Sri Lankan navy did not produce, in court, the GPS data from the naval vessel involved in the arrest. The navy said it was not functioning. Further, heroin was recovered only from the Sri Lankan boat, while nothing of that sort was found in the Indian trawler. If the judge had taken into account the GPS data as interpreted by the expert, Mr. Dompegama, the fishermen would have been released on October 30 itself.”

 

Free Sri Lankans also

Avdhash Kaushal, an Indian human rights activist and an advisor to the Sri Lankan Presidential Disappearances and War Crimes Commission has demanded the unconditional release of the three Sri Lankan fishermen involved in the case.

“Releasing and pardoning the five Indian fishermen is a welcome step taken by President Rajapaksa but he should release and pardon the Sri Lankans as well. All the eight fishermen were given capital punishment by the High Court for the same crime,” Kaushal said in a statement from Dehra Dun in India.

 

2 Comments for “India Flooded With Joy”

  1. This is a case well framed and executed. These are innocent Tamil fishermen who may have cresed the maritime boundary. The Sri Lankan Navy had twisted the case to instill fear phobia in the minds of the Tamils to prevent them coming to Sri Lankan shores and to frighten the Tamil Nadu politicians. besides, the sri lankan navy is yet over come the hatredness towards Tamils and the fear phobia of the sea tigers.

  2. gamarala

    Not pardoning the three tamils too shows the president’s bias against tamils – daily
    enforced by the military and police.

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