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India assures death row fishermen freedom

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fishing trawlersIndia’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Yash Sinha ┬ámet the five Indian fishermen sentenced to death at Colombo’s Welikada prison and assured them of every effort to secure their early release, even as in Chennai the MDMK accused the government of “playing with the lives of Indian fishermen”.

Sinha met the five Indians – Emerson, P. Augustus, R. Wilson, K. Prasath and J. Langlet – who were awarded the death sentence by the Colombo High Court Oct 30 on charges of drug trafficking.

The high commissioner met them at the superintendent’s office where he handed over some clothes and toiletries and enquired about their welfare.

He assured them of unstinted support and cooperation of the Indian government in ensuring that their case receives the utmost attention and that the government of India will make all efforts to secure their early release and repatriation to India, said official sources.

The fishermen appeared in good health and requested permission to write to their relatives in Tamil Nadu and also to make telephone calls.

The prison authorities readily agreed and said they would arrange for telephone calls to be made by the prisoners in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, they were free to write letters to their relatives, the sources added.

The fishermen expressed happiness at the high commissioner personally coming to meet them and thanked him for this gesture.

Meanwhile, MDMK founder Vaiko in Chennai asked why the Narendra Modi government was keen on having defence ties with Sri Lanka despite the death sentence handed down to the five fishermen.

“The lives of Tamil fishermen should not be taken lightly. If the NDA follows the UPA policy on Sri Lanka, the Tamil youth will not tolerate that,” he said in a statement.

Vaiko, who spearheaded a protest here against the Colombo court verdict, said that irrespective of the Narendra Modi government’s invite to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the swearing-in, Chinese naval ships have been allowed to berth in Sri Lankan waters, which he said was a direct threat to Tamil Nadu.

Union Road Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari Tuesday met the families of the five men and said they will be freed through legal means.

India has conveyed to Sri Lanka its concern over the death sentence and is waiting for the final copy of the court judgment in order to appeal against it.

India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said earlier in New Delhi that India and Sri Lanka have in place a “legal architecture” to deal with such cases and cited an earlier instance in which the death sentences of two Indian nationals were commuted to life imprisonment by the then Sri Lankan president.

The two Indians served some period of their sentence in Sri Lanka, and under an agreement by which a sentenced prisoner can serve the sentence in their respective countries, the two were transferred to India in 2013.

While one has completed his sentence and been set free, the other is still serving his sentence in India, the spokesman said.