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Five Indian fishermen hailing from the coastal village of Thangachimadam in Rameswaram of Ramanathapuram district were handed the death penalty by a Sri Lankan court on Thursday.
The convicted Indians — Emerson, Prasath, Agustus, Wilson and Lancget — all hail from Thangachimadam, the central region of Rameswaram island. It is the first time Indian fishermen captured by the Sri Lanka Navy have been sentenced to death by the Island nation.
The five Indians are among a group of eight people sentenced to death by the High Court in Colombo. They were arrested in the seas near northern Jaffna in 2011.
The High Court judge Preethi Padman Surasena sentenced the three Sri Lankans and five Indian fishermen for their involvement in heroin trafficking between the two countries. The court, however, has given until November 16 for filing appeals.
Arrest of Indian Tamil fishermen off the south eastern coast of India is not an uncommon feature, most of them are arrested for trespassing International Maritime Borderline (IMBL).
Fishing Community Reacts
The fishing community in Rameswaram town and surrounding villages of Thangachimadam, Pamban and Rameswaram are deeply hurt and have taken to the streets to show their support.
The village falls on the arterial Madurai- Rameshwaram state highway which also connects the Island to the mainland via the famous Pamban bridge. The road has been blocked by barks of palm trees that have been set on fire by angry protesters. A state transport bus has also been set on fire.
“The situation is becoming tense here,fishermen have not gone out to fish, they are planning a rail roko and have already blocked the main road in Thangachimadam” IJA Newton, a Rameswaram resident who operates a travel agency, told IndianExpress.com.
“Fishermen leaders are planning a meeting and will decide further action after that,” said M Thillaibagyam, a former CPM member and activist from Rameswaram.
Unconfirmed reports claim protesters have occupied the railway track at Thangachimadam owing to which all express trains to Chennai and Tuticorin have been temporarily cancelled.
All political parties in Tamil Nadu have condemned the Lankan court’s decision and have appealed to the Central government to intervene.
“To put such a blatant false case on poor fishermen is totally unacceptable. The Centre must take all steps to see that these innocent fishermen are released,” said Tamilisai Soundararajan, Tamil Nadu BJP president, in an interview to a television channel.
Senior DMK leader TKS Elangovan also condemned the sentencing and said the case should have been handled better and the fishermen should be given all assistance by the Modi government. Tamil Nadu Congress president B S Gnanadesikan also reacted and said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should intervene and see that the innocent fishermen are released.
Other state political leaders including CPM state leader G.Ramakrishnan, PMK head S Ramadoss expressed their concerns and urged the central government to take up the issue with utmost seriousness.
Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin said: “We are confident that in a court of law their innocence will be proved.” He assured that the MEA will use pursue the issue in both diplomatic and legal channels.
Police personnel in Ramanathapuram were deployed in large numbers in and around the village of Pasumpon for the birth anniversary celebrations of Muthuramalinga Devar, which was attended by chief minister O Pannerselvam and other major state politicians.