Signing death penalty warrant is futile: BASL

“It is not the solution to this,” BASL President U.R. de Silva said reacting to President Sirisena’s plans to execute 19 death-row prisoners convicted of drug trafficking.

De Silva explained his position to the Daily News, saying that first the President should discuss his decision to implement the death penalty with relevant departments: the Attorney General’s Department, the Prison Department, the Justice Ministry and the Bar Association. “That does not mean the President cannot make the decision,” he clarified, “but it should be a well-considered thing.”

After President Sirisena received information that prisoners on death row were engaged in illegal drug trafficking within the prison, the President informed his Cabinet that he would implement the death penalty to traffickers. “If you are going to do that type of thing, there will be problems for our country.”

De Silva’s concerns were two-fold: with a seeming lack of process in making this decision, and with the effectiveness of such a decision. “It is the duty,” he said, “of the Police Department to find out what happened.”

De Silva made the case that authorities of the Police Department should be summoned and questioned, “How did this happen?” He pointed out that these prisoners would have been confined to separate cells, prohibited from using mobile phones, that they would have had limited outdoor access, and even their meals would have been prescribed. “How did they perform this act? This is the relevant factor.”

De Silva advocated for a series of stricter measures to curb drug-trafficking activities: preventing mobile phones from reaching prisons, tougher scanning on items entering prisons, better surveillance on goods entering Sri Lanka by air and by sea.

“If we are not going to implement those measures and to sign the death warrant—it is not the solution to this issue.”

“The other important factor is what we have agreed upon with other countries.” De silva was referring to Sri Lanka’s international commitments, as a country that repeatedly and recently voted in favour of a moratorium on implementing the death penalty at the UN General Assembly.

U.R. de Silva’s statements come after the Amnesty International made multiple statements yesterday, entreating upon the government of Sri Lanka to halt any plans to execute the prisoners, saying, “Sri Lanka will do immense damage to its reputation.” If the President’s wishes are fulfilled, these will be the first legal executions in Sri Lanka in more than 40 years. 

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