Lanka president pardons ex-MP on death row, triggers widespread criticism

A former Sri Lankan parliamentarian from the ruling party who was serving a death sentence over murder charges on Thursday was released from prison on a "special" presidential pardon, triggering a widespread criticism, including from the US.
Lanka president pardons ex-MP on death row, triggers widespread criticism
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (File Photo)


Duminda Silva has been granted "special presidential pardon" by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He was set free from Welikada Prison after he received the pardon, the prison's spokesperson Chandana Ekanayake told reporters here. 
Silva, a former parliamentarian from the ruling SLPP, 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 and three others sentenced to death had moved the Supreme Court against the judgement. However, the apex court in 2018 rejected their appeal and upheld the lower court’s ruling. 
Silva was released in addition to 93 prisoners, including 16 LTTE terror suspects, who were also pardoned by the president. 
Criticising the government action, the US Ambassador to Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, in a tweet said the pardon of Silva "undermines rule of law". 
"Accountability and equal access to justice are fundamental to the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) to which the GoSL (Govt of Sri Lanka) has committed," she said. 
However, she welcomed the "early release" of the prisoners held without charges under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). 
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) also questioned Rajapaksa's decision to pardon "a prisoner who was convicted for unlawful assembly and murder by the High Court, which was unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court". 
The top lawyers'' body in a statement said under article 34 (1) of the Constitution, a president is empowered to grant such a pardon. Yet it requires the president to call for a report from the judge concerned which should in turn be submitted to the Attorney General for advice. The Attorney General must report to the justice minister on the issue and the minister is mandatory to submit a recommendation to the president. 
“It is the right of the public to know whether the said pardon has been granted in accordance with the report of the trial judges, the opinion of the Attorney General and the recommendation of the Minister of Justice,” the statement said. 
The BASL asked Rajapaksa the reasons as to why the case of Silva stands out from others who are currently sentenced in the same case.

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