Opinion Thoughts on the death penalty and criminals

21 July 2018 12:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Those who argue that implementing the death penalty for serious crimes would act as a deterrent against others who might want to commit such crimes are almost certainly mistaken. The reality is that a person who wants to commit a premeditated crime does so after careful study and in the belief that he would be able to do things in such a meticulously planned manner that he will not get caught. Thus the question of being deterred by the possibility of being apprehended and executed doesn’t arise.   

When it comes to considering the implementation of the death sentence, there are those whose religious beliefs like not taking another’s life compelling them to oppose the ultimate penalty without any reference to its deterrent effect or otherwise. However, their position is more often than not self-contradictory regarding this question because most of them would not hesitate to cheer on their armed forces to shoot, bomb or otherwise destroy enemies in order to support the State. This being so, the cries we make that we have no right to take another’s life, even after the most stringent investigational and judicial processes have been employed, is just plain hypocritical. One cannot help speculating as to whether their solicitousness for the condemned is not motivated, in the final analysis, by their anxiety to make certain of their own paths to heaven, paradise, moksha, nirvana or whatever else might be their goal.   


Those who deal intensively in the import, distribution and sale of drugs would not have the faintest wish to be reformed


Separate politics from religion
Religion is a personal matter and it must be kept well separated from politics. Decisions taken for the maintenance of law and order, the integrity of the country and other matters of State should be done on the basis of day to day practicalities and keeping in mind the fundamental and human rights of individuals. If we are foolish enough to bring religion into it, what are the religious norms that would have to be followed? Surely, it would not be democratic to force the views of anyone’s religion on the followers of other faiths? The simple answer is to have a strongly secular Constitution and let legislators practice their respective religions in their own time and at their own expense without trying to tie down the State unilaterally. If this neutrality is attained, the question of hanging criminals or not can be taken without allowing callous, opportunistic politicians to exploit the support of bigots and extremists of the varying types who seem to flourish particularly well at present.   

Having regard to Sri Lanka’s alleged majoritarian commitment to safeguard the sanctity of life, one is reminded of the story, where centuries ago, the Maha Sangha had assured a Buddhist prince that it was no sin to kill Tamil enemies because Tamils were not ‘human’! Why not add murderers, rapists and drug-traffickers to this classification and perhaps get the Tamils out of it?   

Right at the outset, it’s necessary to accept that, quite apart from the pressure from our own liberal intellectuals, countries such as Canada, the EU, Norway, UK and several others would strongly oppose Sri Lanka carrying out judicial killings. They are already pressurizing us by their quite open ‘threat’ of the withdrawal of the financial and other types of assistance that they extend to us from time to time. However, this does not mean that independent citizens of this country have to leave their considered opinions and rational thoughts on this subject unexpressed.   


An interesting thing to remember regarding this issue is that these liberal countries took more or less one or two centuries to give up on their reliance on the death penalty to keep criminals under control


Over the period of many years, the informal opinions that have been sought by Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) on this subject have been overwhelmingly in favour of implementing the death penalty for rape, murder or being a member of an organisation that smuggles in hard drugs and gets the young and impressionable part of the population addicted. In reaching their goals, criminals of these types don’t hesitate to resort to personal violence, killings and seeking the protection of powerful politicians and the law-enforcement authorities to get their vile businesses flourishing.   

It is our firm conviction that with the rarest of exceptions those who deal intensively in the import, distribution and sale of drugs would not have the faintest wish to be reformed because what they do is so lucrative that they cannot see themselves doing anything else equally attractive. The possibility that there may have been one drug lord somewhere, who has now been redeemed and has become a good citizen, is so far from being real that it must be taken as an axiom that any leader who has been running a drug operation or who has been an integral part of such an operation for more than a few years is too far gone in the business of building up and protecting such operations as to be incapable of adjusting to a law-abiding life.   


‘Masters’ in prison 
We are informed periodically by our rightfully apprehensive media that certain powerful gangsters not only run their operations from overseas, but also from within prisons where a few of their senior ‘executive assistants’ are now held after being convicted. The real masters of those in prison not only ensure that the families of these ‘executive assistants’ are handsomely looked after, but also bribe and simultaneously threaten the prison authorities to provide forbidden facilities to these inmates such as communication equipment, special foods, drinks and secretly arranged leave to go outside once in a while. From their cells, these ‘executive assistants’ continue to control the lower levels of the organizations of drug lords, which usually remain substantially intact and are invariably used to threaten the parents, siblings, spouses and children of prison officials to get whatever favourable treatment is sought by these privileged prisoners.   

It’s one thing to show some consideration for a man, who has committed murder under severe provocation, but to equate to this recklessness the activities of a ruthless gang-leader, who routinely and cold-bloodedly kills his competitors’ personnel, informants, their family members and law-enforcement personnel, is not even remotely acceptable. Why should the average citizen’s taxes be consumed for long years to house, feed, clothe and medically look after totally unscrupulous and incorrigible criminals during long periods of imprisonment? Why should society incur huge infrastructural and administrative expenditures to prevent their escape instead of saving these moneys and spending them on helping the victims of these criminals? It is, of course, essential that lawful procedures have been followed, with thorough oversight measures in place, before one decides that a particular criminal has been properly convicted of such grave, premeditated crimes as to deserve the  death sentence. To maintain a measure of balanced judgment, we should ask ourselves whether these criminals would have shown any mercy at all to anyone that opposed their felonious activities. Surely not.   


We should ask ourselves whether these criminals would have shown any mercy at all to anyone that opposed their felonious activities


We need to remember that the death penalty is being implemented even today in many countries such as China, India, Russia and the USA. They do not care two  hoots about what Canada, the EU, Norway, UK and other ‘liberal’ countries have to say. An interesting thing to remember regarding this issue is that these liberal countries took more or less one or two centuries to give up on their reliance on the death penalty to keep criminals under control. It is only as they became steadily richer that their affluence enabled them to have more efficient crime detection and control. In this connection, we may mention that Holland has been closing down some of its prisons because the amount of crime has been reduced progressively by the efficient enforcement of the law. This is a luxury that Sri Lanka will not be able to afford for a few decades more so as to be able to do away with the death penalty altogether; but certainly not just yet. The Government must argue that desperate situations require desperate remedies and ask for more time from our donor countries to improve on our crime prevention and detection systems and allow us meanwhile to get rid of the really hardened criminals who are running their drug-dealing empires with the present intolerable degree of impunity.   
The write is the President of CIMOGG and can be reached on

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