Premalal Jayasekara: Sri Lanka’s death-row MP takes oath

USA & World

Premalal Jayasekara: Sri Lanka’s death-row MP takes oath

A Sri Lankan politician sentenced to death for murder has been escorted out of prison and became the first convict to be sworn in as a member of parliament, to heckles from opposition MPs.

Premalal Jayasekara – from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) – was convicted in July of murdering an opposition activist after opening fire at an election rally in 2015.

But the 45-year-old’s conviction and sentence came after nominations for the August 5 poll, and he was allowed to contest the election and take up his seat.

Jayasekara did not attend the current parliament’s first session on August 20 as prison authorities refused to let him out.

However, he petitioned the Court of Appeal, which issued an interim order on Monday that he should be escorted from prison to exercise his rights as an MP. He is to be escorted back to prison after the day’s session.

Opposition lawmakers wore black scarves in protest and heckled Jayasekara on Tuesday as he took the oath. Several staged a walkout.

Sri Lanka’s opposition legislators wearing black scarves protest as convicted murderer Jayasekara (unseen) takes oath as a member of parliament [Ishara S Kodikara/AFP]

Jayasekara is the first convicted murderer to serve as an MP in Sri Lanka. He has been an MP since 2001.

In January 2015, he opened fire at a stage being set up for an election event by a rival party, killing one person. He has appealed the conviction and the death sentence.

Although Sri Lanka does hand down death sentences, no one has been executed since 1976.

Jayasekara is not the only legislator escorted from prison to Parliament in Sri Lanka.

Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, a first-time MP, is awaiting trial for alleged murder and is brought in for legislative sessions.

Brushes with the law are no bar to a career in politics in South Asia.

More than 40 percent of lawmakers in India’s parliament face criminal charges – some as serious as murder and rape, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms, an electoral reform group.