Anger over the release of a politician convicted of murder

Duminda Silva was sentenced to the death for the murder of a fellow MP. His release under a presidential pardon has sparked local and international public anger. Some 16 Tamil Tiger fighters are also among those released. Many express concern over the erosion of the rule of law.

Duminda Silva

The release of a former Member of Parliament sentenced to the death has sparked widespread anger in Sri Lanka.

Duminda Silva was released on Thursday with 93 other inmates after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa granted them a special pardon.

Those released include 16 former Tamil Tiger militants who had been jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, who still had another year to serve.

Many in Sri Lanka and abroad have accused Rajapaksa of betraying democracy and undermined the independence of the judiciary.

An ally of the current government, Duminda Silva was convicted in 2016 in connection with the killing of fellow MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra.

Rev Marimuttu Sathivel, an Anglican priest and coordinator of the National Movement for the Release of Political Prisoners, spoke to AsiaNews about the double standards that political prisoners face.

“If Silva, who was convicted, is released in this arbitrary manner, why shouldn’t those who have been wrongly imprisoned without trial be released as well?”

By his action, “the president shows that he can independently decide about the arrest or release of anyone at any time. This is very dangerous for anyone in the opposition.”

According to MP and former Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala, this is not the first time the government has “rewarded murderers and punished those investigating them.”

Since the pardon was issued, prisoners in Mahara and Welikada prisons have been on a hunger strike demanding that their death sentences to be commuted to 20-year prison sentences.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) also slammed the decision, describing it as an unreasonable move that undermines the rule of law and promotes the loss of public confidence in the justice system.

In a statement, the BASL insisted that President Rajapaksa make public the reasons why the  Silva’s case stands out from the others.

For instance, human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem remain in jail without trial on terrorism charges, a situation that affects several members of minorities and the political opposition as well.