Would it be possible to release a person sentenced to death on a general amnesty granted by the President? Although it seems implausible, a convict had his death sentence converted to a term of life imprisonment and then secured freedom after being behind bars for just six years.
This had transpired at the ongoing narcotics case before Panadura High Court Judge Mrs. Malini Gunaratne. The revelation comes in the backdrop of growing support for the implementation of death penalty. President JR Jayewardene suspended the implementation of death penalty in 1977. The last execution had been carried out in 1976.
A senior Prisons Department official acknowledged the release of Gampolage Nimal Fonseka. The official claimed that a senior Prisons official had recommended the convict`s release on the basis of his good conduct. He had been released during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapakse`s predecessor to mark Independence Day.
Fonseka had been indicted in High Court on a charge of heroin trafficking. Panadura police had arrested him in 2002. He had been in remand since September 2002.
Speculation is that this could not have been an isolated case. The possibility of crooked Prisons Department officials facilitating the release of convicts serving terms for grievous crime could not be ruled out, an official said. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official said that the system reeked of corruption and irregularities. The release of a convicted killer could not have been an impossibility, he said.
The High Court Judge had expressed shock and surprise over the manipulation. She said that this would be a travesty of justice. She expressed the belief that this would undermine the judiciary and encourage serious crimes. She also emphasised the absurdity in releasing convicted prisoners.
The Justice Ministry, the Judicial Services Commission and the Prisons Department are expected to inquire into the hotly disputed practice.