The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on Friday stayed the death penalty for four persons convicted on drug-related offences until October 30, temporarily preventing the country’s first hanging in 43 years.
In June, President Maithripala Sirisenahe signed papers to execute four convicts, effectively ending a 43-year-old moratorium on capital punishment. Amid concern voiced by local and international rights groups, President Sirisena has defended his stance while criticising those opposed to his move.
Appearing for one of the convicts, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP and President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran argued that around the time Sri Lanka’s current Constitution was adopted in 1978, when President J.R. Jayawardene was at the helm, the country’s policy had been that in a “Dharmishta” (righteous) society, the State shall not put an end to any person’s life. The last time Sri Lanka executed someone was in 1976.
“Several governments and presidents have maintained the moratorium since then. This President is clutching at straws at the tail end of his term. What has been solidified in law over 43 years must not be changed,” argued Mr. Sumanthiran, the only counsel heard by the Supreme Court on Friday on behalf of all petitioners. The State prosecutor responded, defending the decision.
Following President Sirisena’s announcement that he had signed death warrants for four persons, over a dozen petitions challenging the move were filed at the Supreme Court. Politicians, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, have opposed the decision. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party has opposed the move, while the TNA at its recent party convention passed a resolution against capital punishment.
Namal Rajapaksa, legislator and son of former President Rajapaksa, said the Sri Lanka Podujana Party was yet to decide on its stance against the death penalty. “It might seem to have popular appeal in the short-term but doesn’t really ensure that the drug menace is eradicated,” he said. “What we need is strong measures to prevent these narcotics from entering and penetrating into our country.”