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Colombo, November 20, 2014 (PTI) Five Indian fishermen sentenced to death in Sri Lanka for alleged drug trafficking were released today after President Mahinda Rajapaksa commuted their death penalty. Prison officials said the five have been handed over to the immigration authorities for further action.

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 for alleged drug trafficking.  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. India on November 11 had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka against a verdict of the high court awarding death sentence to them.   

Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a telephonic conversation last week on the issue.            

The issue of fishermen is a very emotive matter 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.
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