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Sri Lanka jails politician for tourist murder

Sampath Vidanapathirana given 20-year sentence for killing British man and raping his Russian girlfriend in 2011.

Last updated: 18 Jul 2014 09:36
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Charges were filed against Vidanapaitharana and five other suspects [AFP]

A Sri Lankan court has sentenced a former member of the country's ruling political party to 20 years in prison for killing a British tourist and raping his Russian girlfriend more than two years ago.

Three others were given the same sentence as Sampath Vidanapathirana by the High Court in Colombo on Friday, the AP news agency reported.

It found them guilty of murdering Khuram Sheikh and raping his girlfriend at a southern tourist resort on Christmas Day, 2011.

Shaikh, a 32-year-old Red Cross worker based in Gaza, was shot and stabbed to death on Dec. 25, 2011, at a hotel while on holiday. His fiance was beaten unconscious before being sexually assaulted, according to hospital and police records.

The case attracted international attention amid allegations that Vidanapathirana was enjoying impunity because of his connections to the family of the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

British politicians and the victim's family had visited Sri Lanka to demand justice.

Charges were filed against Vidanapaitharana and five other suspects amid increasing international scrutiny and pressure over the country's human rights record. 

The court discharged two of the accused on Friday.

The court sentenced Vidanapathirana, a ruling party supporter and head of the council in Tangalle town, where the two were staying, to "rigorous imprisonment" for 20 years.

Shaikh's brother Nasser Shaikh, who was in court, said: "While our family and friends find it difficult to come to terms with the tragic loss, I hope today can bring some comfort to everyone involved that we achieved the justice we set out for."

Friction between Sri Lanka and Britain over the murder case had grown before a summit of the Commonwealth group of countries in Colombo last November.

Vidanapathirana had been granted bail in 2012 and allowed to remain in his town council position. But he was indicted soon after the Commonwealth meeting and then arrested after allegations he had attempted to intimidate witnesses.

The ruling party later expelled him.

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