5 Indian fishermen sentenced to death in SL
Five Indian fishermen were sentenced to death on Thursday by a Sri Lankan court for alleged drug trafficking, prompting a response from India that it will appeal to a higher court against the judgement.
The five Indians are among a group of eight people sentenced to death by the high court in Colombo. They had been arrested on a boat in the seas off northern Jaffna's Delft islet for involvement in heroin trafficking.
Colombo High Court judge Preethi Surasena convicted all eight men in November 2011. Drug convictions carry a mandatory death sentence which is almost always commuted to life in prison. Sri Lanka has not carried out an execution since 1976.
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.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin in New Delhi said, "India's High Commission in Colombo will appeal to higher court through a lawyer against the judgement by the lower court against these five Indian fishermen".
Akbaruddin has said that India has been pursuing the case at both levels - legal and official - and will continue doing so.
Fishermen from the two countries straying into each others' waters is a thorny issue for Colombo and Delhi.
Tamil Nadu has repeatedly accused Sri Lanka's navy of harassing their fishermen and urged Delhi to take firm action against Colombo.
Sri Lanka denies the charges, and says Indian fishermen are regularly straying into Sri Lankan waters and depriving local fishermen of their livelihood.
The two countries are separated by a narrow strip of sea known as the Palk Strait which is also a rich fishing ground.
During the height of Sri Lanka's separatist war in the island's northeast, close to southern India, fishing provided a cover for lucrative smuggling of arms and fuel to the rebels.
Sri Lankan authorities say smugglers are now bringing narcotics into the island for shipping to other destinations.