Catholic cardinal joins Buddhist leadership to bless state executions

By Athula Vithanage

Defying the Holy See, a Catholic cardinal has joined with Sri Lanka’s top Buddhist hierarchy to give blessings to the death penalty.

Sri Lankan President has announced plans to end a four decades old moratorium on executions by authorising the hanging of drug dealers to begin with.

I will lend my signature to death warrants of mass scale drug dealers who are involved in criminal activities even after being sentenced,” President Maithripala Sirisena told on Wednesday (11), amidst applause at a state event in central Sri Lanka attended by hundreds of school children.

Although courts hand over capital punishment, Sri Lanka has commuted death sentences for serious crimes to life sentence since 1975, when the last execution took place.

The death penalty is in force only once the president signs the warrant.

'Rightful punishment'

Flouting an earlier call by the pope to abolish capital punishment, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo has endorsed the president’s decision.

“It is not unjust to execute the rightful punishment against those who organize drug deals and underworld activities while in prison,” he told journalists in Colombo.

Last year the head of the Catholic church denounced the capital punishment as ‘inadmissible’.

It is necessary therefore to restate that, however grave the crime that may have been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person,” Pope Francis told a gathering of cardinals, bishops, priests and catechists, who were in Rome last October.

It is not clear whether Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was among the attendees.

'A civilised society'

Top religious leaders from Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority have given their approval for the death penalty contravening a cardinal principal of Buddhism that requests its followers to abstain from killing any living being.

“We need to remind that Lord Buddha has preached that the king will have to carry on the law of the land for the larger good of the general public,” said the Anunayaka (deputy prelate) of the Malwathu chapter Dimbulkumbure Wimaladhamma thera.

“We believe that the president would have thought to eliminate crimes and build a civilised, peaceful society by implementing the law, said the secretary general of the Malwatte chapter Dr Medagama Dhammananda thera.

However, Sri Lankan and international rights bodies have condemned the plans to implement the death penalty.

'No deterrent effect' - Amnesty

“By resuming executions after more than 40 years, Sri Lanka will do immense damage to its reputation. The government must immediately halt plans to carry out any executions, commute all death sentences, and establish an official moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty as a first step towards its full abolition,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Director for South Asia at Amnesty International.

“There is no evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect against crime. Executions are never the solution and, for drug-related offences, constitute a violation of international law."

Earlier, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) had urged the government to abolish the death penalty.

"ln view of international and comparative jurisprudence, the Commission agrees with the position that the death penalty amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and fails to respect the sanctity of human life," Commission Chairperson Dr Deepika Udagama said in a letter to President Sirisena in 2016.

The same year, at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, Sri Lanka pledged to continue with the moratorium against capital punishment.

As of today, 142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In the Asia-Pacific region, 19 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and a further seven are abolitionist in practice, says Amnesty International.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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