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Bill to abolish Death Penalty “as early as possible”- Kiriella

Move brings UNP into direct confrontation with the President and may expose party fault lines

By Arjuna Ranawana

Activists protesting against the death penalty near Welikada Prison/Imesh Ranasinghe RepublicNext

The government will bring a Private Members’ Bill to abolish the death penalty before Parliament “as early as possible,” Leader of the House, Minister Lakshman Kiriella told RepublicNext yesterday July 17.

The Bill was speedily Gazetted also yesterday under extraordinary circumstances.

“Under normal procedures, a Private member’s Bill has to go before the Attorney General according to Standing Orders but we suspended Standing Orders and sent it directly for Gazetting,” Kiriella added.

He said, “we will bring it before the House as early as possible.”

The Private Member’s Bill is being presented by government party back-bencher Bandula Lal Bandarigoda.

The Bill proposes that the death penalty for all offences be abolished and all those now facing execution have their sentences commuted to life terms.

The United National Front’s move brings it into direct confrontation with President Maithripala Sirisena who has made the resumption of executions for serious drug offences an important plank of his anti-narcotics drive.

At a temple ceremony on Tuesday the President likened calls to abolish the death penalty to attempts to pardon the Easter Sunday attackers.

He said that if a Bill abolishing the death penalty is passed in Parliament “those presenting that bill must also want the masterminds of the Easter bombings to go unpunished.”

The President has also said he will declare a National Day of mourning if such an Act was passed.

The Bill may also expose fault lines in the United National Party.

Its leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is opposed to the death penalty, according to his party’s position. He reiterated this position on June 30 speaking at an event in Moneragala.

But the party’s Deputy Leader and Presidential aspirant Sajith Premadasa has, on several occasions, said he supports the death penalty, particularly for terrorist offences. He has also conditionally supported executions for drug offences.

Speaking at an event in Sooriyakanda two months ago Premadasa said he has no objection to the death penalty as long as there are sufficient safeguards to ensure justice is being done.

The Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Tamil National Alliance and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna have all stated that they are opposed to the death penalty.

The Supreme Court has suspended executions after accepting 12 Fundamental Rights Petitions from Civil Society leaders as well as Clergy from all religious groups.

Sri Lanka has observed a moratorium on judicial executions for the last 43 years and has pledged at numerous international fora not to resume the practice.