COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan ruling party politician and three accomplices were Friday sentenced to 20 years in jail for murdering a British holidaymaker on Christmas Eve and raping his Russian partner.
The Colombo High Court said town council chief Sampath Vidanapathirana was guilty of killing 32-year-old Khuram Shaikh, an International Red Cross aid worker, who had tried to stop a brawl at a southern beach resort on December 24, 2011. After 33 days of hearing evidence, judge Rohini Walgama found Vidanapathirana, a member of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s Freedom Alliance, and three others guilty on all 16 counts that included culpable homicide, attempted murder and rape.
The four men were ordered to pay a total of 800,000 rupees ($6,250) as compensation to the Russian woman, who cannot be named, as well as fines of 20,000 rupees ($156) each. Two other accused were discharged by the court saying there was insufficient evidence against them. All six of them were indicted in December after repeated allegations that there was an unnecessary delay in bringing the case to court, leading to suspicions they were being shielded by their political connections.
Shaikh’s brother Nasser applauded the “bravery and defiance” of Sri Lankan witnesses who gave evidence despite threats and intimidation. “Whilst our family and friends find it difficult to come to terms with the tragic loss, I hope today can bring some comfort to everyone involved that we achieved the justice we set out for,” an emotional Nasser said reading from a prepared statement. He fought back tears inside the court room and outside as he spoke to reporters while the accused appeared smiling and chatting with police and jail guards.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had cited the murder of Shaikh, who was beaten then shot in the head, as an example of Colombo’s failure to deliver justice. The Briton was holidaying in Sri Lanka during a break from his job in the Palestinian territory of Gaza where he was fitting prosthetic limbs. Hotel manager Tharanga Peiris told the court earlier this year that she tried to stop him going to the aid of another hotel guest who was being beaten by the politician and his gang.
Another hotel guest said that the attackers had “behaved like animals” and went on a rampage smashing plates, glasses, car windows and toppling a three-wheeled taxi parked outside. Shaikh’s girlfriend, who was knocked unconscious after a brutal assault, returned to Sri Lanka this year to give evidence and identified one of her attackers in court. She returned to court Friday to hear the verdict, but did not speak with reporters.
The case was initially heard in the southern town of Tangalle, the hometown of the main accused, but shifted to the capital Colombo last year following allegations that the suspects were intimidating witnesses. “There was a lot of media attention on this case,” judge Walgama said while sentencing the four men. “This is an important case in our legal history. There were allegations that justice will not be served in this case, but that is not true.” It was not immediately clear if the men would appeal the verdict and the 20-year jail sentences, but judge Walgama told the convicts that they must question their own conscience before going to a higher court.
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