A convicted murderer on death row was sworn in as a Sri Lankan lawmaker Tuesday, after a court ruled that he could not be barred from the country’s 225-member Parliament.
Lawmakers from the United People’s Force, the largest opposition grouping in Parliament, staged a walkout when Premlal Jayasekera was sworn in by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena as member of Parliament for Ratnapura District, a gem mining center, southeast of the capital Colombo.
Jayasekera was convicted of murdering activist Susil Perera ahead of a presidential election in January 2015. While he was sentenced to death, Sri Lanka has not carried out an execution since 1976, though last year the previous government announced plans to resume the practice.
While the case against him was pending, Jayasekera was nominated by the Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPF) as a parliamentary candidate. When the SLPF won a landslide victory last year, Jayasekera was one of 145 candidates elected to Parliament.
SLPF is run by the Rajapaksa brothers, Gotabaya and Mahinda, who hold the positions of President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka respectively.
Jayasekera’s election triggered a string of legal issues, as he tried to get permission to attend Parliament from authorities at Colombo’s Welikade Prison. Eventually his case reached the Court of Appeal, which ruled this week that he should be permitted to take his oath of office.
“Since the election of this Member of Parliament has not been invalidated, the interim relief sought that he be permitted to attend Parliament has to be allowed,” the court said, though it left the matter ultimately to the Speaker whether or not to swear Jayasekera in.
On Tuesday, Jayasekera was escorted to Parliament by armed prison officials, where he took the oath of office and formally became an elected lawmaker.
People’s Liberation Front leader Anura Kumara said it was “unjust” for someone given a death sentence to be a member of Parliament. Members chanted “shame” and wore black shawls in commemoration of Jayasekera’s victim.
Jayasekera will be escorted in a similar fashion whenever Parliament is in session, but he won’t be the only lawmaker attending to his duties under guard. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, a former Tamil Tiger guerrilla rebel during the separatist war, has been in jail since 2015, awaiting charges connected to the alleged murder of Joseph Pararajasingham, a member of the moderate Tamil National Alliance in Batticaloa in 2005.