Sri Lankan death row prisoners end hunger strike

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Colombo, Jun 26 (PTI) Death row prisoners in Sri Lanka, who were on a hunger strike demanding commutation of their sentences, similar to the Presidential pardon extended to a former parliamentarian facing capital punishment earlier in the week, have ended their protest after official assurances of representation, authorities said on Saturday.

Over 175 prisoners on death row from the Main Welikada Prison here and the Mahara Prison in north Colombo started a hunger strike on Thursday, demanding that either they be hanged or their sentences be commuted to life terms.

Speaking to the media on Saturday, Prisons Spokesman Chandana Ekanayake said the striking death row prisoners have ended their protest.

'Yesterday, the Secretary to the State Ministry of Prisons visited them (the prisoners) and informed them on the official interventions on their behalf,' Ekanayake said.

The hunger strike was triggered by President Gotabaya 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.

Silva's pardon 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 IND

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