Sri Lanka court sentences four for murder of Briton, rape of fiancée

COLOMBO Fri Jul 18, 2014 5:34am EDT

Sampath Vidanapathirana (in white), Sri Lanka's ruling party politician, is led away from the High Court by police officers in Colombo July 18, 2014.   REUTERS/Stringer

Sampath Vidanapathirana (in white), Sri Lanka's ruling party politician, is led away from the High Court by police officers in Colombo July 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan court convicted on Friday four men, including a ruling party town council member, of the murder of a British aid worker and the rape of his Russian fiancée and sentenced them to jail with hard labor for 20 years.

Khuram 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 fiancée was beaten unconscious before being sexually assaulted, according to hospital and police records.

Colombo High Court sentenced the four, including Sampath Vidanapathirana, a ruling party supporter and head of the council in Tangalle town, where the two were staying, to "rigorous imprisonment" for 20 years.

Judge Rohini Walgama also fined them 20,000 rupees ($150) each and ordered them to pay 200,000 rupees ($1,500) each in compensation.

Shaikh's Russian fiancée, who can not be identified under Sri Lankan law, was in court and seen wiping away tears as the verdict was delivered.

The aid worker's brother, Nasser Shaikh, was also in court.

"Whilst 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," Shaikh told reporters after the verdict.

The case had strained ties with Britain and its High Commission in Colombo welcomed the outcome of the trial.

"The officials of the Attorney General's office have shown great professionalism and integrity and we would like to thank them. We will continue to monitor any developments in the case closely," it said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, facing Western questions over human right standards, came under criticism over delays in bringing the case to trial. The government had said delays were unavoidable due to forensic work.

Sri Lanka faces a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution accusing it of rights abuses and war crimes in connection with the final stages of a nearly 30-year war against ethnic minority Tamil separatists.

The government's commitment to the rule of law has been questioned since it removed a chief justice from office in 2012.

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 the main witnesses.

The ruling party later expelled him.

($1 = 130.2300 Sri Lankan Rupees)

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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