New Delhi: A day after it filed an appeal against the Sri Lankan high court verdict giving death sentence to five Indian fishermen, India on Wednesday said it wants "immediate and unconditional" release of its nationals.
India's reaction assumes significance in the backdrop of the reported statement by Sri Lankan Minister Prabha Ganesan that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was ready to pardon the fishermen on death row for alleged drug smuggling if the Indian High Commission in Colombo does not proceed with an appeal against the sentence.
"The government has always been insisting on the immediate and unconditional release of its fishermen who been sentenced to death the Lankan court. And any avenue which enables that will be pursued," government sources told PTI, indicating that it will not take back the appeal.
India, yesterday, filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka against a verdict of the high court awarding death sentence to the five fishermen for alleged drug smuggling.
Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath and J Langlet, all hailing from Tamil Nadu, were apprehended in 2011 and were sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on October 30.
Earlier this week, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin had said the government would do everything possible to ensure return of the Indian fishermen in accordance with Sri Lanka's legal and executive process.
"It is a matter on which we place very high priority. It is also a matter on which we are exploring a variety of avenues to ensure that those citizens of India return to India safely. These avenues are being pursued in accordance with Sri Lanka's legal system and Sri Lanka's executive role in the process," he had said.
The court ruling had triggered fiery protests in parts of Tamil Nadu and sporadic violence broke out in and around Rameswaram island as a large number of people staged protests.
The issue of fishermen is very emotive for both Sri Lanka and India, where Tamil Nadu-based parties including AIADMK and DMK have been regularly pressing the government to take up the matter with the Lankan authorities seriously and have often resented high-profile visits from the island nation.
Earlier, in the week, there were also reports originating from Colombo that Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken to each other on the issue. However, there was no official confirmation on it from the Indian side.