At the outset we need to make it clear that we hold no brief for drug barons, convicts on death row or the death penalty but for the dignity of human life as best said by Pope Francis, “…since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation”.
With the Supreme Court’s (SC) stay order, the hangman’s noose will have to be put away at least till October 30 this year or a little while longer until it makes its determination on the fundamental rights petition filed by a death row inmate.
The SC also directed the Commissioner General of Prisons to abstain from executing any convict notwithstanding the death warrants signed by President Maithripala Sirisena.
The FR petition was filed by Attorney K. H. Geeganage on behalf of death row inmate Mohammad Haniffa Praeem Nawas. It states that the move is shrouded in secrecy, lacks transparency and accountability and is arbitrary and violates the Constitution and that capital punishment had been put on hold since the moratorium in June 1976 with successive Presidents refraining from signing any death warrants for judicial executions.
The petition states that on September 14, 2015, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressing the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council underlined the Government’s commitment to, ‘maintain the moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its ultimate abolition’.
The petitioner states that attempting to lift the moratorium on the death penalty in the light of such facts is manifestly absurd, arbitrary, capricious and irrational and without a rational nexus between such decision and any object thereof.
Among the several FR petitions challenging the re-institution of the death penalty was the one filed by senior journalist Malinda Seneviratne in the Court of Appeal, which has fixed for July 17 its ruling on the preliminary objections raised by the Attorney General on the maintainability of the petition and the jurisdiction of the Court.
To a question asked by the Appeal Court President Yasantha Kodagoda, Prisons Commissioner General T.M.J.W. Tennakoon said he was yet to receive any communication from the President on the date, time and location for the judicial execution of any of the death row inmates.
Be that as it may, the public will be curious to know the criteria or the basis on which the four inmates – three men and a woman were selected from among more than a thousand currently occupying death row, ‘to be hanged by their necks till they are dead’. Were they found guilty of having committed any offence such as that of operating the narcotics trade during their incarceration as ‘guests of the State’ or were the crimes committed by the four any worse than those of the others convicted of drug-related offences. The other question is whether those in death row for drug-related offences are drug barons or their minions who do the dirty work while the bosses stay out of the law enforcement radar.
Meanwhile, United National Party (UNP) MP Bandula Lal Bandarigoda has submitted a Private Member’s Bill -- co-sponsored by UNP’s Gampaha District MP Kavinda Jayawardena -- with retrospective effect if approved, seeking to abolish the death penalty and replace it with a maximum period of life imprisonment.
“I am a Buddhist and my colleague Kavinda is a Catholic. As a Buddhist, I have a moral obligation to live by the Buddha’s philosophy, according to which killing is abhorred. Buddhism’s first precept teaches us not to kill…,” MP Bandarigoda said.
When contemplating an irreversible and irrevocable form of punishment such as the death penalty, several factors legal and otherwise need to be taken into consideration and should not be a decision taken lightly or in haste. Especially at a time when all the mainstream political parties represented in parliament and several civil rights groups here and abroad expressing their opposition to the implementation of the death penalty, which they say is inhumane and barbaric in this time and age.
With this in mind, the President’s allegation that drug barons are manipulating those opposing the death penalty holds no water and smacks of frustration at being thwarted and against this background there is no gainsaying the fact that the President should revisit his decision to implement the death penalty without allowing his ego to cloud his thinking.