Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Sri Lankan Parliament Adds Convicted Murderer on Death Row as Lawmaker

The Sri Lankan Parliament welcomed a convicted murderer previously sentenced to death as a lawmaker on Tuesday after a court ruled that he was legally entitled to serve.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena swore in Premalal Jayasekara, recently convicted of murdering opposition activist Susil Perera ahead of the 2015 presidential election, as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ratnapura District, a gem mining center outside the capital Colombo.

His swearing-in led to a walkout from the United People’s Force, the largest opposition group in Parliament with whom Perera was aligned. Supporters of People’s Liberation Front leader Anura Kumara wore black shawls and shouted “shame” as he took his oath of office.

Jayasekara’s rise to power came about after he was elected as a parliamentary candidate by the Sri Lanka People’s Front and went on to win his seat after the party swept to a landslide victory in August’s general election. The party is led by the Rajapaksa brothers, Gotabaya and Mahinda, who run the country as president and prime minister, respectively. Jayasekara joins another four Rajapaksas in parliament.

Following his conviction and subsequent death sentence, Jayasekara’s election presented an array of legal questions as to whether he would be allowed to sit in parliament.

“Since the election of this Member of Parliament has not been invalidated, the interim relief sought that he be permitted to attend Parliament has to be allowed,” the court said in its ruling, leaving the decision at the discretion of the Speaker of the House Yapa Abeywardena.

Abeywardena ultimately approved Jayasekara’s right to serve in office and he took his seat on Tuesday, escorted to the parliament by armed prison guards, who accompany him to and from the facilities whenever Parliament is in session.

“In allowing Hon. Premalal Jayasekera to take oaths and attend parliament the speaker of the house has not violated the constitution as the decision was made in keeping with the judgment given by the court of appeal a few days ago,” wrote cabinet member Namal Rajapaksa on Twitter after the ceremony.

In allowing Hon. Premalal Jayasekera to take oaths and attend #parliament the speaker of the house has not violated the constitution as the decision was made in keeping with the judgement given by the court of appeal a few days ago.

— Namal Rajapaksa (@RajapaksaNamal) September 8, 2020

Despite being on death row, it remains highly unlikely that Jayasekara will be executed while in office, given the last time a death sentence was carried out was in 1976.

Jayasekara is also not the only legislator who will be escorted from prison to parliament in Sri Lanka. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, a former guerrilla rebel during the separatist war who subsequently became Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, was also elected to parliament last August despite facing murder charges over the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham, a member of the moderate Tamil National Alliance in Batticaloa in the year 2005.

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Ben Kew

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