On 26th March 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned former Army Staff Sergeant R. M. Sunil Rathnayake, a convicted death row prisoner. The pardon was met with mixed reactions in Sri Lanka. At one end of the spectrum was concern and condemnation for pardoning a convicted criminal while others welcomed the pardon and for releasing a former military person. Notable is the timing of the pardon. The pardon was granted when Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented public health emergency with Covid-19 and with focus primarily on dealing with the response and related issues. This is also in a context when civil society has called for urgent prison reforms and the Government has set up a committee to examine how to address the overcrowding and other concerns in the prisons in Sri Lanka, creating the expectation that cases involving inmates for lesser crimes or unable to pay bail will be given due attention. It was in this midst, when attempts are seemingly made to address prison reforms, that President Rajapaksa chose to keep to his earlier pledge and pardon a convicted criminal.
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