The logic behind reviving the death sentence
India, the land of the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, Apostles of Nonviolence, took the hard decision in 2012 to hang Ajmal Kasab, the hardcore terrorist of Lakshar-e-Taiba militant organisation responsible for the killing of 72 innocent civilians in the Mumbai terror attack.
Furthermore, the most affluent and powerful country in the world, the United States of America executed 25 prisoners for various offences in the year 2018 alone. The logic behind that death sentence was that ‘the punishment should fit the crime’.
The similar view must be taken about the decision made by President Maithripala Sirisena to carry out the death sentence against a very few hardened drug smugglers who were sentenced to death several years ago and carrying out illicit drug trade from the prison. If a person commits a crime that affects a significant portion of the young generation and continues to indulge in the same crime while in the death row of the prison, isn’t he fit for the capital punishment?
President Sirisena reiterated in no uncertain words that he would carry out the death penalty for big-time convicted drug offences who continue the illicit drug trade while in the death cell and announced that he has signed the death warrants of four such prisoners.
Sri Lanka’s last execution took place in 1976. During the Universal Period Review (UPR) of the abolition of the death penalty, in November 2012, several countries urged Sri Lanka to consider abolishing the death penalty. Although the death sentence has not been carried out for the last 43 years, Sri Lankan courts continue to sentence defendants to death and the current moratorium is in effect only by virtue of the President’s occasional initiatives to commute death sentences.
Il licit drug trade
President Sirisena clarified that his decision to carry out the death sentence against the few hardened drug smugglers who continue to carry out drug smuggling operations from the prisons was an important part of the crusade to eliminate illicit drug trade.
In many countries, the death sentence is carried out for various crimes. According to surveys, the majority of Americans still approve of executing perpetrators of heinous crimes and the number of supporters of capital punishment is on the increase.
In neighbouring India, more than 1,500 prisoners were executed since 1947. According to a report of the Law Commission of India (1967), the total number of cases in which the death sentence was awarded in India from 1953-63 was 1,410.
The last few executed prisoners in India were ruthless terrorists like Ajmal Kasab, who killed innocent civilians in a ruthless killing spree in Mumbai. The hanging of 2008 Mumbai attack gunman Ajmal Kasab took place on November 21, 2012. The last execution to take place in India was July 30, 2015 hanging of Yakub Memon, convicted of financing the 1993 Mumbai bombings. Prior to these hangings, the last three executions to take place in India were the February 8, 2013 hanging of Muhammad Afzal, convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament.
In addition to all the countries in West Asia, several South East Asian countries such as the Philippines and Singapore carry out the death sentence on repeated drug offenders.
The Amnesty International said in a statement that executions for drug-related offences are unlawful. They do not meet the threshold for “most serious crimes”– such as an intentional killing – to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international human rights law, it added. Various other human rights organisations have come up with objections to ‘arbitrarily execution of persons convicted of drug-related offences’. They have ignored the fact that President Sirisena’s proposal is to carry out execution for the drug offenders who continue their criminal drug trading while in prison. If these criminals carry out drug smuggling while in prison, it is very clear that these criminals do not have any desire to rectify their errant ways and become good citizens. So, the right to rehabilitate or reform is not a right they want to use.
Addressing heads of media heads on Wednesday (June 26) at the President’s House in Colombo, President Sirisena emphasised the danger of illicit drugs. Pointing out that there are about 100,000 drug addicts in the country, he urged all sections of the society including media to extend the fullest support to the government endeavours against illicit drugs.
The President announced a drug eradication week from June 23 to July 1 in line with the Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The third day of this drug eradication week was marked at the Kolonnawa Raja Maha Viharaya on June 26. Speaking at the event the President noted that he signed the decree for the death penalty and that there would be objections against his decision and that a majority of these objections would be driven by drug racketeers. The President stressed that the death penalty would be imposed in the coming two weeks adding that this is not an issue that can be addressed through compassion.
Drug offenders in Philippines
Commenting on the actions of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the president remarked that 27,000 people linked to drug offences were killed in the Philippines without any legal cases. While noting that Duterte’s actions were correct, the president stated that his approval of Duterte’s actions has also been condemned by international organisations. The President reiterated that NGOs that attempt to dictate terms to the Government will not be allowed to have their way.
“I signed the decree for the death penalty to protect the children of this country and to protect the people living in this country. The April 21st attacks may have halted our fight against drugs. However, we will not stop. I might be depicted as a wrongdoer but I will do the right thing with honesty, according to my conscience,” he said.
The continued drug smuggling shows the gravity of the drug issue in Sri Lanka. The police have seized 1,029 Kg of heroin during raids that have been carried out during the year thus far. 20,309 suspects have been arrested during the same period. The Police media spokesperson said that during the year 2018, 737 Kg heroin had been seized with 40,987 suspects being arrested.
Sri Lankan courts operate subject to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, last revised in 1980 (the Act) 15. The Act provides that any offence punishable by death shall be tried by the High Court of Sri Lanka. The presiding judge announces the sentence, and signs a warrant for the commitment of the person sentenced to the custody of the superintendent of prison, and as soon as convenient thereafter, the presiding judge forwards to the President of Sri Lanka the notes of evidence from trial along with a report setting out the judge’s opinion as to whether the death sentence should be carried out.
The President said that he has received several reports regarding death row prisoners guilty of drug offences required to carry out the death penalty and said that he selected four of them for the execution.