COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan politician on death row for murder was on Tuesday sworn in as a legislator in the country’s parliament amid angry scenes.
Premalal Jayasekara became the first convict to take oath as a legislator in the country after being escorted from prison for the swearing-in ceremony.
“This disparaging act has not only drawn global attention, but has also created a permanent scar in the annals of history with the entry of a death-row prisoner to the legislature,” said Imran Mahroof, an opposition member of parliament from the eastern part of the island nation.
“In Sri Lanka, the man who kills a cow goes to jail, while the man who kills another man goes to parliament,” he told Arab News.
Several opposition members wore black shawls as a mark of protest, while others staged a walkout when he was being administered the oath of office.
Jayasekara was convicted in late July of murdering an opposition activist after opening fire during an election rally in 2015.
However, his death sentence was issued days after he had filed nomination papers for re-election in the Aug. 5 polls.
He was allowed to contest on behalf of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party and secured the second position in the Ratnapura District preferential votes list.
After failing to attend the first session of parliament on Aug. 20 – due to a lack of approval from prison authorities – Jayasekara had filed a petition seeking a review to allow him to be escorted to the legislature by the commissioner general of prisons (CGP) for a day before being returned to jail.
As prison rules and regulations do not have provisions for an inmate on death row being appointed to public office, the CGP inquired on the matter with the Ministry of Justice, which in turn referred it to the country’s attorney general for a case study.
Subsequently, the attorney general informed the ministry that Jayasekara was not eligible to act as an MP under articles of the constitution.
The writ application was then filed before the Court of Appeal requesting permission for Jayasekara to attend parliamentary sessions, and the court allowed him to participate in the sessions of the House.
Human rights activist, Shreen Saroor, told Arab News: “People of this country voted in a convicted murderer. It shows who our citizens think is appropriate for politics. It also shows how corrupt and unruly our political system is and what qualifies to be a politician. No wonder we women and good men cannot get into this rotten political space.”
International political lobbyist, Muheed Jeeran, said: “Lawmakers are supposed to safeguard the public from lawbreakers but here a lawbreaker had become a lawmaker.
“The Sri Lankan system has failed to prevent a murder convict from becoming the MP of the parliament.
“The blame is not with the murder convict; rather it is the so-called intellectuals who specialize in law and failed to articulate the constitution to prevent such a pathetic decision that put down Sri Lanka’s image badly in the eyes of the international community,” Jeeran added.
Speaking to the press after the swearing-in ceremony, Jayasekara maintained his innocence and said that he was “still imprisoned over a crime he did not commit.” He claimed that he had been “framed” before adding that there were around 29,000 people “who are in prisons without having committed any wrong.”