COLOMBO: Five Indian fishermen were given death penalty by a Sri Lankan court today for alleged drug trafficking, prompting a response from India that it will appeal to a higher court against the judgement.
The five fishermen, all hailing from Tamil Nadu, were apprehended in 2011 by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of smuggling of drugs, official sources said.
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.
The High Court judge Preethi Padman Surasena passed judgement on the five Indians and three Sri Lankans for involvement in heroin trafficking between India and Sri Lanka in 2011.
However, 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.
Immediately reacting to the Sri Lankan court verdict, 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".
He also said that India has been pursuing the case at both levels - legal and official - and will continue doing so.
The issue of fishermen is a very emotive matter for both Sri Lanka and India, where Tamil Nadu-based parties including AIADMK and DMK have been regularly pressing the Centre to take up the matter with the Lankan authorities seriously and have often resented high-profile visits from the island nation.