07/18/2018, 16.05
SRI LANKA
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Sirisena wants the death penalty for drug traffickers, but this is against Gospel values, says priest

by Melani Manel Perera

In Sri Lanka, the death penalty has been under a moratorium for more than 40 years. Big traffickers escape justice. The Anglican Church, the Human Rights Commission and the European Union have condemned the decision. Card Ranjith supports the president.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The death penalty has become a hot topic in Sri Lanka following President Maithripala Sirisena’s announcement on 12 July that it would be applied to convicted drug traffickers. Should this happen, it would end a moratorium in place since 1976.

For the past 40 years, death sentences for drug trafficking have been routinely commuted to life sentences. Now President Sirisena intends to sign execution orders despite the opposition of human rights groups.

According to Fr Ashok Stephen, a Catholic priest and director of the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo, the move is aimed at boosting the government’s credibility.

Fear of gang-related violence caused by drug trafficking is a major issue. However, such a decision will tarnish the country’s international reputation, the priest believes.

"If you look at the situation of Sri Lanka, our judicial system is very corrupt and there is always the possibility that such a verdict would be imposed on innocent people, with the true culprits escaping thanks to their economic and political power.".

In fact, Fr Ashok notes that death sentences tend to be imposed on small traffickers, not the big ones. More importantly, "As a Catholic priest and a human rights advocate, I cannot agree with the death penalty, because in all the civilised countries we talk about the rehabilitation of the prisoner."

Citing Pope Francis, according to whom the death penalty is contrary to the values ​​of the Gospel, he notes that "This should be the Catholic approach, the human approach. We should follow and act as Jesus said. The death sentence is no solution."

The position of the archbishop of Colombo, Card Malcolm Ranjith, is different. On 12 July, the cardinal stated that the Church supports the president's decision. His words met with criticism, including from Buddhists.

On Monday, the Anglican Church "explicitly" condemned Sirisena’s decision in a statement signed by the bishops of Colombo and Kurunegala.

" 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,” said the statement.

What is more, “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”. 

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission expressed "deep sadness" at the decision at reiterated its call for the outright abolition of the death penalty.

In a joint statement, the Delegation of the European Union and the Embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Romania "strongly and unequivocally oppose capital punishment in all circumstances and in all cases.”

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