The bishops of the Church of Ceylon have spoken out after reports that Sri Lanka’s President and Cabinet have moved to reinstate the death penalty for prisoners convicted of drugs offences. There has been a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the country since 1976, with sentences of death commuted to life imprisonment. But now President Maithripala Sirisena has said that he will sign execution orders for people convicted of drug trafficking who are said to be continued to be involved in offences despite being in prison. The move has been opposed groups as diverse as the Human Rights Commission, the European Union, Amnesty International and the country’s Anglican Church.
“As Christians, we believe that all people are made in the image of God and are therefore imbued with the spark of the divine within them, however obscured and hidden it may be”, the Bishop of Colombo, Dhiloraj Ranjit Canagasabey, and the Bishop of Kurunegala, Keerthisiri Fernando, said. “This is why the taking of human life is expressly condemned by the Church, whether by man or by the state.”
They say that the Church of Ceylon “cannot therefore in any way agree with this move, which we believe has been rushed into without proper reflection, in the backdrop of criticism and public disquiet about the spate of gang related murders and shootings in the recent days.
“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 minimising 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 bishops says that “wise counsel has always prevailed” when previous governments considered reinstating the death penalty during the past 40-years.
“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 organisations 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.
“We therefore re-iterate our opposition to this decision and we call instead on the government to vigorously combat drug smuggling and distribution at all levels in our society. It is widely spoken including in government circles, that it is the ‘sprats’ who are being caught and punished while the ‘sharks’ are allowed to remain free to carry on their business, profitable to many, even politicians it is said. The law ought and must be applied in full force equally to all involved in this destructive trade.