Crime and Punishment!

Zoysa demands expulsion of PS Chairman from SLFP; Keheliya tight-lipped

MINISTERFormer Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Chandrapushpa Vidanapathirana and three others were sentenced to twenty years of rigorous imprisonment, yesterday, for the murder of British tourist Khuram Shaikh and raping of his Russian girlfriend Victoria Alexandrovna in 2012. The accused were sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment on two counts of murder and rape and the judge ruled that the jail terms run concurrently.
The verdict was delivered after a marathon three and half-month trial at the Colombo High Court. Earlier, the case was transferred from Hambantota to Colombo after the witnesses for the prosecution were allegedly threatened and intimidated.

The four accused earlier pleaded innocence and can appeal against the sentence. So can the Attorney General against what appears to be its leniency. Nonetheless, the British Government is reportedly pleased with the verdict. A statement from the British High Commission in Colombo said: “We hope that this will bring some closure for his family and friends who have faced a long and difficult fight for justice.” Khuram’s brother was also quoted as saying that “the country has done what many people hoped and prayed for.”

It appears that the judgment was a victory for the Sri Lankan judiciary, which itself is suffering from a deficit of trust.
Nonetheless, there are discerning Sri Lankans who believe that the sentence was way too lenient. This newspaper shares their sentiments. The punishment should surely be proportionate to the crassness of the crime. Yet, the accused, who have been found guilty of the barbaric killing of an innocent foreigner and raping of his fianceé appeared to have got a cushy deal.

It is important to recall some of the previous high profile murders. Six military personnel, who were found guilty of the murder of Krishanti Kumaraswamy, were sentenced to death. In another incident, Shramantha Jayamaha, who was found guilty of the murder of Yvonne Johansson at Royal Park was sentenced to death, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. Set against those historical judgments, the leniency of the sentence given to the four accused in the brutal murder in Tangalle becomes painfully clear.

The political interference with the initial investigation could have left little evidence against the accused, who are politically connected local thugs. Without the diplomatic pressure exerted by the British Government, including the local peers from Khuram’s constituency, it is hard to expect that justice would have ever been delivered to the two victims. The failure in the judicial system or its bias would have left a stain on the beleaguered local judiciary. Therefore, the verdict spares Sri Lanka from a PR disaster.

However, both, the local observers and their British counterparts, should continue to monitor the developments of the case. The accused can appeal against their sentences in the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. Also, theoretically speaking, a presidential pardon could set them free. Should the international community, especially the British, lose interest, the case may take a dramatic turn. We should not let that happen.

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