Minister vehemently opposed to resumption of 'judicial executions'
Govt divided over re-introduction of the death penalty

Rehabilitation Minister Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene opposes a government decision to resume what he described as ‘judicial executions’.

"I have no intention of supporting the re-introduction of the death penalty," he told The Island, adding that several of his colleagues agree with his stance. Responding to questions, the minister said he informed Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in writing about his decision. "We will campaign vigorously against the proposed resumption," he said. He was convinced their campaign would receive the backing of a large number of opposition MPs.

Earlier the premier declared that MPs would be allowed to express their views freely when parliament debates the issue on March 20.

Jayawardene’s Gampaha district parliamentary colleague and Interior Minister John Amaratunga wants to resume capital punishment as a part of the strategy to tackle what he described as organised crime, an increase in violent incidents and the booming narcotics trade.

He said among the opponents were the London headquartered Amnesty International and the 15-nation European Union. "The EU opposes executions," he said.

Last week Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse extended his support to a disputed government decision to resume executions.

Parliament adopted a motion by PA MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra calling for the immediate enforcement of the capital punishment in June 1995, Rajapakse said.

Although death sentences are handed down by the courts, successive presidents had been commuting such sentences to terms of life imprisonment from 1977. Since March 1999, no death sentences had been commuted to life imprisonment.

Since coming to power in August 1994, the PA thrice announced that it wanted to resume executions suspended in June 1976.

A few days after parliament adopted the June 1995 private member’s motion by MP Premachandra, the then Justice Minister G. L. Peiris told parliament that there had been no firm decision to resume the death penalty.

But the Presidential Secretariat on March 14, 1999 announced that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had decided to implement the death penalty. Thereafter the PA’s executive committee on November 22, 2000 unanimously decided to resume executions. (SF)