Lankan authorities send list of 260 death row inmates to president for commuting their sentences

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Colombo, Jun 25 (PTI) Prison authorities in Sri Lanka have sent a list of 260 death row prisoners to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for commuting their sentences to life terms, a senior minister said on Friday, a day after over 175 prisoners went on hunger strike following the pardon and release of a former parliamentarian facing capital punishment after a political killing.

Over 175 prisoners from the main prison here and at the Mahara prison, north of Colombo, on death row went on a hunger strike from Thursday, demanding that either they be hanged or their sentences be commuted to life terms.

The hunger strike was triggered by Rajapaksa's decision to grant a presidential pardon to Duminda Silva, a former parliamentarian from the ruling SLPP who was sentenced to death after a political killing in 2011.

While responding to the protest by the prisoners, State Minister of Prison Reforms Lohan Ratwatte said the list sent to the president was of 260 death row prisoners.

'There was a committee report about the death row prisoners. That report was handed to the minister,' Chandana Ekanayake, the prison spokesman, said.

Silva's pardoning caused much controversy with the lawyers' body- Bar Association of Sri Lanka- questioning if the proper legal discourse had been followed.

Silva was set free from Welikada Prison on Thursday.

The former parliamentarian and 12 others were accused of 17 charges, including the murder of his political rival and another lawmaker Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and four others in 2011. A special three-member panel of High Court judges acquitted seven suspects and sentenced five, including Silva, to death in 2016.

Silva was released in addition to 93 prisoners, including 16 LTTE terror suspects, who were also pardoned by the president.

The UN Human Rights body and the US Ambassador in Colombo were critical of Silva's pardoning as an instance of questionable nature of the rule of law.

Sri Lanka supported the UN moratorium on death penalty. The country has not hanged anyone since 1976. Death sentences are commuted to life terms. PTI CORR RS RS

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