A Sri Lankan court has sentenced a former lawmaker to death over the killing of a rival politician in an election-related attack five years ago.

The court sentenced Duminda Silva and four suspected accomplices to death on Thursday. They were charged with shooting to death Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and three of his supporters.

The case was widely followed because Silva was seen a favorite of the country's former strongman, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Silva was believed to be protected by Rajapaksa and was flown out of the country soon after the killing, apparently for treatment of injuries he received in the fracas.

His sentence is also seen a sign of a return of the independence of the judiciary, which was tightly controlled by Rajapaksa before his election defeat last year.