Friday, July 18, 2014

Sri Lanka: Update--Political "Untouchables" Finally Convicted, Will Each Spend 20 Years in Prison

According to the UK-based The Independent, a Sri Lankan politician is one of a group of men sentenced to 20 years "rigorous imprisonment" each for the death of a British tourist and the rape of his Russian girlfriend.

Sampath Vidanapathirana and three others were each given the same prison sentence by the High Court in Colombo on Friday (July 18).

Briton Khuram Shaikh, 32, was stabbed and then shot to death and his Russian girlfriend,  gang-raped at a southern tourist resort on Christmas Day 2011.

Charges had also been filed against two other defendants, but were discharged.

Shaikh a “committed” Red Cross worker, was on holiday in the town of Tangalle on Christmas Eve 2011.

The couple were believed to have been attacked after attempting to stop a fight at a hotel.

COMMENT: For the benefit of our readers, please see the below link which should bring you up-to-date in terms of how and why these convictions even occurred: 

Also, for the benefit of our readers,  I've also included the actual text of  my March 28, 2014 posting in its entirety so they can see a pivotal point in the uphill battle to see the "untouchables" successfully convicted.

Before I provide the text, though, credit is due largely to the Royal Family in the UK and Members of Parliament who never gave up on the need to see justice done for Mr. Shaikh and Ms. Alexandrovna, who testified at the defendants' trial in March 2014.

Below is the full text of my March 28, 2014 posting:

"Friday, March 28, 2014 

Sri Lanka: Update--Murdered British Aid Worker Khuram Shaikh's Russian Girlfriend Cross-Examined  

According to the UK's DAILY MIRROR, during the second day of cross examination, murdered British aid worker Khuram Shaikh Zaman's girlfriend, Victoria Alexandrovna, now 25, requested the Court consider her frame of mind at the time of the crime, which occurred on Christmas Eve 2011.

Ms. Alexandrovna said this when the defense counsel was repeatedly referred to her previous statement on December 24, 2011 when Shaikh was murdered and she was gang-raped by the defendants.

The trial into the killing of British tourist Khuram Shaikh at a Tangalle resort was taken up before High Court Judge Rohini Walgama.

Ms. Alexandrovna told the Court that though she has now identified the suspect, who assaulted her at the poolside, she had not pointed him out during the "line-up" at the time out of fear for her life, considering that the defendants were at the time very well-connected politically. 

Responding to questions asked by defense counsel for the third defendant, former Tangalle PS Chairman Kalinga Indratissa, she said she was gang-raped by those who killed her boyfriend, Khuram, stating that she had bruises following the attack.

COMMENT: It needs to emphasized that justice delayed from the time Khuram was murdered and Ms. Alexandrovna gang-raped on December 24, 2011 to March 28, 2014, occurred largely because the defendants had political influence that rendered them "untouchable."

As Ms. Alexandrovna testified, the victim emphasized that she no longer feared for her life given the fact that all defendants have been remanded into custody and that she has been afforded 24/7 security protection.

Kuram Shaikah Zaman, a British national, and his companion, Russian national Victoria Alexandrovna, 23 (at the time of the attack), reportedly was sexually harassed by at least three Sri Lankans at a resort in Tangalle (about 100 miles south of Colombo), resulting in the death of Zaman and the gang-rape of Alexandrovna. 

The actual attacks on Zaman and Alexandrovna occurred during the early morning hours of December 25, 2011.

An autopsy revealed that Zaman had been attacked by a sharp weapon and shot and killed by a firearm as well. Alexandrovna was gang-raped and treated at Karapitiya Hospital in Galle.

Hoteliers in Tangalle reported that following the incident, a number of foreign tourists vacated the resort where Zaman was killed and Ms. Alexandrovna gang-raped." 

If the defendants had had their way, political clout might well have resulted in the murderers and gang-rapists getting away with murder and gang-rape.

Vidanapathirana, who had been the chairman of Tangalle village council, and his co-defendants were also fined 20,000 rupees (£88) and ordered to pay 200,000 rupees (£900) in compensation each, Reuters reports. 

Khuram Shaikh was killed while on holiday in Sri Lanka Judge Rohini Walgama said: "I have given this judgment by taking into account the evidence that was led in accordance with my conscience," the BBC reports.

Shaikh’s then-girlfriend, Ms. Alexandrovna, and his brother, Nasser, were in court to see the sentences being handed down.

“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 and the country can move forward in a better place for many, ensuring no other person suffers the same fate as my brother,” Nasser said in a statement.

A "Justice for Khuram Shaikh" campaign had been spearheaded by Nasser.

The conclusion of the case comes after heightened tensions between British diplomats and Sri Lankan officials, the latter of whom were accused of being too slow in bringing the four defendants to justice.

There were also allegations that Vidanapathirana had been given impunity thanks to his connections with the family of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and that Vidanapathirana had intimidated witnesses.