ECONOMYNEXT – In the wake of the presidential pardon granted to former Sri Lanka MP and murder convict Duminda Silva, 110 death-row inmates at the Welikada and Mahara prisons are engaged in a hunger strike demanding that their death penalty be commuted to a life sentence.
The prisoners are on strike for a second day running, protesting the Silva’s release and demanding that their penalty be commuted to life in prison with effect from the date of the sentencing, Media Spokesman for Prison Department, Commissioner of Prisons, Chandana Ekanayake told EconomyNext June 25 morning.
A joint committee of officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Prisons Department had already been appointed in January over the matter, Ekanayake said.
Media reports showed some death row inmates at the Welikada prison protesting from the roof of a building at the prison premises June 24 night and the following morning.
In January this year, the State Ministry of Prisons said the death penalty given to convicts after 1998, excluding “notorious drug runners”, would be commuted to life in prison due to the growing number of appeals made by prisoners.
The State Ministry said that the commuting of the sentence would be carried out under provisions in the constitution on granting presidential pardons.
According to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), article 34 (1) allows the president to grant a presidential pardon, either free or subject to lawful considerations, the provisos to the article require the president to call for a report from the judge who tried the case where the offender has been condemned to death. Such report is required to be forwarded to the attorney general for advice, and the proviso also requires the attorney general’s opinion to be referred to the minister of justice who too is required to submit a recommendation to the president, a BASL statement expressing concern over Silva’s arrest said.
Sri Lanka has had a de-fact moratorium on the death penalty since 1976.
In February, the Supreme Court extended till September 07 a stay order on the decision by former President Maithripala Sirisena to implement the death penalty on four convicted drug barons.
In 2019, Sirisena announced that the death penalty should be imposed against four convicted drug dealers who were operating from within prisons to tackle the increasing drug-related issues in Sri Lanka.
According to the statistics of the Prison Department, 1,614 people were sentenced to death between 2009 and 2019. (Colombo/June25/2021)