Sirisena tries to silence activists opposed to the death penalty
by Melani Manel Perera

The president lifted a ban on death sentences for drug-related crimes. The Constitutional Council and the Human Rights Commission claim the right to defend everyone, including jailed criminals.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Two Sri Lankan institutions that defend human rights, including the rights of prisoners, have criticised President Maithripala Sirisena's decision to restore the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

Mr Sirisena has tried to silence them by saying that many other countries in the world have capital punishment.

Instead of being intimidated, the two organisations have reiterated their absolute independence and made public a declaration signed by more than 100 people and 15 civil society associations.

The issue began in early February when President Sirisena announced that his government was lifting a 43-year moratorium. At present, the government is seeking to hire two executioners.

Drug dealers and drug traffickers already behind bars are the first who could face the hangman.

The president's decision, by his own admission, followed a meeting he had with his Filipino counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte.

The latter is leading a no hold barred war on drugs that has officially caused the death of 5,000 people (activists claim the actual number of victims tops 12,000).

In Sri Lanka, the Catholic Church, the country’s Constitutional Council (CC) and the Human Rights Commission (HRCS) have criticised the president’s move.

For his part, Sirisena told Parliament on 6 February that bodies like the CC and the HRCS should support the state in its fight against the drug mafia, and not hinder it by protecting the rights of criminals behind bars.

In their defence, the two institutions said that president is duty bound to support and respect their independence.