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Is Sirisena facing another debacle over the Death Penalty?

Activists protesting against the death penalty outside the Welikada jail/Imesh Ranasinghe RepublicNext

President Maithripala Sirisena is likely facing another debacle over his insistence on bringing back the death penalty in Sri Lanka, as opposition to the decision mounts.

Last year when he ordered Parliament dissolved he had to backtrack when the courts found that he had no power to do so.

At that time two of the three pillars of governance, the Parliament and the Judiciary went against his decision.

There is every chance that with the death penalty President Sirisena will face the same fate.

The leaders of the two biggest groups in Parliament, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who leads the governing United National Front and the Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa who heads the Joint Opposition have voiced their opposition to the move

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has also said it will oppose hangings.

Now it is the turn of the courts.

Tomorrow morning the Supreme Court has set aside time to hear up to 12 Fundamental Rights applications challenging the death penalty and seeking an interim order suspending executions.

It is only the Supreme Court that can review decisions taken by the President.

On June 26 President Sirisena announced that he had signed the death warrants for four people convicted of drug-related offences.

The petitions have been filed by a wide range of people and all of them are asking for an interim order stopping the executions.

The petitioners include Civil Society activists such as Dr. P Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Analysis.

Several well-known academics including Galkande Dhammananda Thero, the current Director of the Walpola Rahula Institute and Head of the History Department at Kelaniya University, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Open University and Dr. Kalana Senaratna from the University of Peradeniya are also petitioners.

Four men on death row .have also filed Fundamental Rights petitions.

Anti death penalty poster in Colombo/ Arjuna Ranawana RepublicNext
Foreign and local organisations opposed to death penalty

In addition to that a number of civil society organisations have asked the President to refrain from lifting the 43-year long moratorium on the death penalty that Sri Lanka has voluntarily imposed.

The reaction from overseas has also been strident with the European Union warning that Sri Lanka could lose the GSP+ concessions because of this.

The President told an audience in Polonnaruwa on Monday he had rebuffed a personal request from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to desist from executions.

He said he had received a phone call from Guterres about the resumption of executions and had explained that he needed to go ahead to deal with the drug menace.

Last week the President said that the executions of four people will be done shortly.

But the Prisons Department which will have to carry out the executions may not be even ready.

As RepublicNext exclusively reported on Wednesday, July 3, the Prisons Department has indicated that it had neither received an order from the President to carry out executions nor seemed to have recruited an Executioner.

This was revealed in a reply sent to Journalist Malinda Seneviratne who filed a Right To Information request on June 27 asking the Prisons Department for details of the death warrants which Sirisena said he had signed and also whether Executioners had been recruited.

The Prisons Department rejected his application on the grounds that it did not have the information he has asked for implying that they do not have the execution orders nor the Executioners.