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Sri Lanka sentences 18 to death in US tea firm case

File photo shows Sri Lankan police.

A court in has given death sentences to 18 men over murdering a US tea company executive in the capital Colombo three years ago, the largest group to be condemned in a single trial in the South Asian country.
The High Court of Sri Lanka on Friday found the men, who were members of a criminal gang, guilty of hacking and beating Nihal Perera to death, in Deraniyagala, a township on the outskirts of the capital, in July 2013.
The 71-year-old victim, a Sri Lankan national, was the superintendent of the Noori Estate tea plantation run by Texas-based firm Walters Bay, and his tragic death caused a massive public outcry against the police at the time. The protesters accused the police of incapability to deal with criminal gangs allegedly led by members of the country’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party.
Twenty-one men were arrested at the time on homicide charges and trial commenced in February 2015, with around 20 witnesses giving testimonies. On Friday, however, three of the suspects were acquitted.
“Among the men condemned today is a politician (from Rajapaksa’s party) who headed a local government council in the area,” AFP quoted an unnamed court official as saying, adding that the “victim had been hacked to death because he stood up to the criminal activities of the gang.”
The accused were also found guilty of inflicting grievous hurt upon three employees of the tea firm at the time.
Sri Lankan courts usually give death sentences for rape, homicide and drug-related crimes, but the verdicts are regularly commuted to life sentences because of an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty.