He may have been sentenced to death for killing an opposition activist, but a member of Sri Lanka's Parliament is keeping his day job.
A Sri Lankan politician sentenced to death on murder charges was sworn in as a member of the country's Parliament on Tuesday, escorted out of prison to take his oath amid jeers from opposition legislators.
The lawmaker, Premalal Jayasekara, was convicted in late July of opening fire on an election rally in 2015, killing an opposition activist. But the conviction and death sentence were handed down just days after Jayasekara had filed papers to run for re-election. Then his party swept to victory.
The decision to allow Jayasekara to conduct his parliamentary duties as a member of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party is the latest episode to unnerve opposition politicians and activists since Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election last November.
The president is part of the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which is mired in scandal, accused of numerous human rights abuses and corruption charges when it ruled Sri Lanka from 2005 until 2015. The family has dismissed the accusations as false, and part of a political campaign to discredit them.
During the family's last stint in power, Rajapaksa served as defense secretary and his brother, Mahinda, was the president. Their government was accused of war crimes rising out of the final offensives against Tamil Tiger rebels, in which the United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed. It was also accused of extrajudicial killings and the persecution of journalists, activists and political opponents.
But to their supporters, the Rajapaksas are war heroes who defeated a ruthless insurgency and ended their country's bloody civil war, which lasted 26 years. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential elections last fall, he promptly appointed his brother as prime minister.
On Tuesday, as Jayasekara walked on to the legislature's floor for his swearing-in ceremony, opposition parliamentarians wore black shawls to mark the death for which he was convicted.
"Shame!" they chanted,
A member of the ruling party offered a different view.
"Victory!" he declared.
The opposition walked out of the chamber in protest as Jayasekara was sworn in.
Addressing Parliament in a voice that shook with emotion, he said he had been framed and requested a new investigation and trial.
"I know in my heart that I am innocent," Jayasekara said.
He charged that the political opposition had framed him for the 2015 killing, as part of a larger plot to discredit him and his colleagues.
Opposition members pushed back.
"The intention of our protest today was that convicted murderer who was sworn in by the speaker, which we found unacceptable," said Eran Wickramaratne, a member of an opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya.
"He was convicted — he has appealed, but he was convicted," Wickramaratne said.
Jayasekara was barred by the court from attending Parliament's first session Aug. 20. But he filed a petition in the Court of Appeal for permission to attend Parliament and represent his district, the southern city of Ratnapura. Jayasekara has represented Ratnapura in Parliament since 2001.
The Court of Appeal ruled that despite his conviction, Jayasekara retained his rights as an elected lawmaker. It suggested that the speaker of Parliament decide whether to let him attend legislative sessions and cast his vote.
The speaker, also a member of the ruling party, ruled in favor of allowing Jayasekara to attend. Now, he will be escorted from prison every time the legislature meets.
Namal Rajapaksa, the minister of sports and the son of Sri Lanka's prime minister, expressed his support for Jayasekara's presence.
"In allowing Hon. Premalal Jayasekera to take oaths and attend #parliament the speaker of the house has not violated the Constitution," Namal tweeted. "The decision was made in keeping with the judgment given by the court of appeal a few days ago."
Written by: Maria Abi-Habib
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