The Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms has extended the time for public viewing of the historic Bogambara Prison because of the high demand from the people who are keen to visit it.
It is reported that more than 120,000 people had visited the prison during the first ten days of public viewing and the most sought after exhibit within the prison had been the gallows, on which many notorious criminals such as Sardiel and J.D. Siripala alias Maru Sira, had been hanged. Media reports also said a majority of the people who had viewed the gallows had been of the view that the death penalty should be re-introduced again.
Sri Lanka is one of the 35 countries that had a de-facto ban on the death penalty. Capital punishment has not been removed from the statute book, but it is not carried out in spite of the death sentenced being imposed by the Courts. No one has been hanged since 1976 after those convicted in the Thismada murder case that shook the country in the early seventies, were executed in 1975 at the Bogambara Prison.
The implementation of the death penalty has long been a highly contentious issue not only in Sri Lanka but the world over and the demand for its implementation in Sri Lanka has seen fluctuating trends after it was suspended 38 years ago. Depending on the degree of sensationalism that the media uses in the reporting of murders, the demand for the death penalty would mount and it would temporarily suppress the voice of the human rights lobbyists who call for the total abolition of capital punishment. However, with the passage of time the lobbyists would regain the upper hand. The demand for it during the public viewing of the Bogambara Prison was hence, an exception.
The question whether the death penalty is a deterrent to the crimes in a country has been a long debated issue. What is ignored is that even in many countries where the death penalty has been abolished or a de-facto ban on it is in force, extra judicial killings are prevalent. The irony in this is that in many such countries the rulers who had legally abolished or implement the de-facto ban had been behind these killings. In Sri Lanka too many higher ups of many governments, since the suspension of the death penalty, had been accused of such murders. In some countries law enforcement authorities use what is in India called “fake encounters” to bump off opponents of the establishment and the criminals.
Even if we accept the death penalty as a deterrent, it is imperative to have an independent police and a judiciary in the country to carry it out. The country would run the risk of sending innocent people to the gallows with a politicized and corrupt police and a judiciary. The demand by the people to implement the death penalty during the public viewing of the Bogambara Prison therefore, has to be weighed against the several strictures that had been issued by Transparency International in its annual corruption indexes against the police department and the judiciary.