Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Ceylonese bishops urge government to reject death penalty

Reimposing the death penalty for drug offenses will only affect the “sprats” not the “sharks” of the criminal underworld, the island’s Anglican bishops said this week.

The Church of Ceylon has urged the government not to reimpose the death penalty, arguing the state had no right to take human life. Reimposing the death penalty for drug offenses will only affect the “sprats” not the “sharks” of the criminal underworld, the island’s Anglican bishops said this week.

The last judicial execution in Sri Lanka took place on 23 June 1976. Criminals subsequently sentenced to death have had their penalties commuted to life in prison by the president of the island republic. However on 11 July 2018 government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne stated: “From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences.

President Sirisena had informed the cabinet he “was ready to sign the death warrants,” the spokesman said.

“Although there are certain opinions regarding capital punishment in a Buddhist society, if a large number of criminal acts spread in such a society despite religious sermons, it will be necessary to take some timely actions to control crime,” the President’s Media Division cited President Sirisena as saying.

Convictions for murder, rape, kidnapping, and drug trafficking are subject to the death penalty. Nineteen drug traffickers sentenced to death have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The push to reintroduce the death penalty came after one of those jailed for life was found to run a major herion network from his prison cell.  Executing such men would send a salutary warning to lawbreakers, the president’s spokesman said.

The Bishops of Colombo and Kurunegala, the Rt. Rev. Dhiloraj Ranjit Canagasabey and the Rt. Revd. Keerthisiri Fernando released a statement voicing their opposition to the move saying the prohibition against killing stemmed from the gift of live given only by God.

“This is why the taking of human life is expressly condemned by the Church, whether by man or by the state,” they wrote.

The proper way forward was to reform the prison administration, preventing criminals from operating from inside their walls.

“Engagement in criminal activities outside prison by convicted persons cannot take place without the connivance of prison authorities. The Government cannot absolve itself from its duty to devise ways of minimizing such occurrences. It must take quick but well designed steps to put into place strong security measures in prisons. obtaining the services of experts here and even abroad, if required. It cannot resort to hanging people to escape its own obligations,” the statement said.

“This does not mean that we are unconcerned about the drug menace. We are indeed very deeply concerned by this widespread and very dangerous threat especially to the young people of our country and its consequences on wider society. In our pastoral visits all over the island we are very often briefed of this menace and we encourage our clergy and organizations to carry out awareness programmes and join with others in doing whatever we can to protect children. The church is willing to join and offer our assistance to the government in this regard in the educational sector,” the statement added.


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