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Sri Lanka to release soldier from prison for massacre of Tamils

The Sri Lankan government is reportedly set to release a soldier who was sentenced to death over the massacre of eight Tamil civilians, according to an opposition parliamentarian who applauded the move.

“Now we have got information that the government has taken measures to release 34 members of the intelligence and Sunil Ratnayake, as mentioned during the Gotabaya Rajapaksa election campaign,” said UNP MP Ajith Perera.

“That is how a leader who does what they say works,” continued Perera. Therefore I would like to extend my gratitude to president Gotabaya Rajapakse and Minister of Justice Nimal Siripala De Silva for taking this decision.”

It is unclear as to whether the soldier has actually been released as of yet, and whether he has received a presidential pardon.

Staff Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake was sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder of the 8 Tamils, including 2 children, in the town of Mirusuvil. The Tamils had been arrested by Sri Lankan security forces on the10th of December 2000. The following day their bodies were found in a mass grave with their throats slashed, according to the District Medical Officer’s post-mortem report. All but two of the bodies had been stripped naked. The youngest to have been murdered was a 5-year-old child.

The killings have since been dubbed the Mirusuvil massacre. 

Ponnathurai Maheswaran, who managed to survive and escape from the army, testified in court and identified at least five of the soldiers responsible. After a lengthy court process only Ratnayake, a member pf the military’s elite Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP), had been sentenced. The other men were cleared of all charges.

As mentioned by Perera, current Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa made repeated pledges to release soldiers that had been convicted of rights abuses. His regime has also vowed not to abide by a UN Human Rights Council resolution that mandates a hybrid accountability mechanism to prosecute those responsible for rights violations.

The case of Rathnayake, one of the few convictions of Sri Lankan soldiers for abuses of Tamils, drew particularly widespread support amongst the Sinhala south.

At the time of the 2015 conviction, Together Against Genocide released a statement welcoming the sentencing, but added “much more” needed to be done to end impunity on the island.

“Even though the war has ended, the racial hatred is far from resolved,” TAG said.

“The open support for the convicted soldier as a ‘War Hero’ clearly shows that racial tensions are still extremely high. This racial hatred prevents justice for the Tamil victims of this and other massacres. There is a clear reluctance among the majority ethnic Sinhala population to hold SLA forces responsible for their war crimes.”

The names of those killed in the massacre are listed below.

Kathiran Gnanachandran (35)
Gnanachandran Santhan
Baskar Gnanabasakaran (19)
Sellamuttu Theivakulasingham (31)
Vilvarajah Pratheepan (15)
Sinniah Vilvarajah (41)
Nadesu Jeyachandran (21)
Vilvarajah Prasath (5)