In the wake of President Sirisena announcing he would sign the death penalty for those who get involved in the drug trade while in prison serving a sentence, the Prisons Department has announced 02 vacancies for permanent ‘hangmen’ to be filled. President’s decision it is reported had been unanimously endorsed by the cabinet of ministers. Despite accepting collective responsibility Minister Rajitha Senaratne maintains he is personally against the decision. So did Minister Samaraweera who opposed capital punishment saying in no country has capital punishment deterred crime, went on to say, the big fish is not who are in the prisons, addressing a well attended media briefing. So was Deputy Minister Karu Paranavithana quoted in personal capacity as opposing the death penalty.
Meanwhile Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith representing the Roman Catholic Church that adamantly oppose abortions arguing for “right to (unborn) life”, spoke to the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation
endorsing President Sirisena’s decision to re-introduce death penalty that denies “right to life”. Crimes must be duly punished and sentences should be carried through he said, endorsing the presidential decision for selective capital punishment. Perhaps Cardinal Malcom Ranjith wasn’t an invitee to the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the catechism when Pope Francis addressed cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, catechists and ambassadors from many countries on 11 October 2017, when the Pope said very firmly, “death penalty is contrary to the gospel, however grave the crime committed” and went on to explain his statement.
There is strong condemnation from the Joint Opposition as well with MP Dinesh Gunawardne very clearly saying imposing capital
punishment would not be a cure for the drug menace. Bar Association of SL also took up a similar
position, denouncing the presidential decision. When re introducing of capital punishment was being discussed and political dumb heads like Hirunika Premachandra claimed in October 2015 she would with the support of another of her kind, Ranjan Ramanayake, bring an adjournment motion in parliament to re introduce the death penalty, Dr. Deepika Udagama as head of the SL Human Rights Commission wrote to President Sirisena in January 2016 opposing capital punishment and saying ‘the death penalty should be substituted with periods of imprisonment commensurate with the severity of crimes concerned’.
Yet Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith believes he should stand with the President and is not alone with deputy prelate of the Malwatte chapter Ven. Dimbulkumbure Wimaladhamma thero and Secretary of the Malwatte chapter Ven. Medagama Dhammananda (Ph.D) thero also endorsing capital punishment demeaning Lord Buddha’s preaching not to take away another’s life (First of the five precepts ; promise to abstain from killing - Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
Drug menace is certainly growing and growing fast too and has to be completely eradicated. The question is how best it could be curbed, if not eliminated. In all countries where it grows as in Sri Lanka, one basic fact is, the law enforcement agencies are both inefficient and heavily corrupt. Political establishment too adds to it with covert patronage. In short, heavily corrupt societies provide fertile ground for drug peddling, big time dealing and trafficking. The express growth of drug addiction, peddling and bigtime business in drugs during the past decade or so in Sri Lanka is much proof of it. In fact, Sri Lanka came to be known as the latest hub for transhipment of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, two of the most dangerous drugs in the world. Bigtime drug trafficking and competition for its monopoly is said and is held as reason for the long drawn out battle between Late Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and former MP Duminda Silva convicted for murder. Very recent allegations by State Minister Wijayakala Maheswaran that with the conclusion of war in 2009 May, politicians were involved in transporting drugs to North and 03 years ago CM Northern Province Justice Wigneswaran highlighting the need to control and stop unrestricted entry of drugs into Northern Province and seeking help of Central Government authorities in curbing the drug menace, certainly paints a very disturbing picture.
In the South, over the past decade and more, drug addiction spread far and wide into rural areas and among school children too. According to the latest survey on drug related arrests by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), every district shows substantial presence of dangerous drugs while Colombo, Kalutara, Gampaha, Puttlam, Kurunegala and Anuradhapura show widespread drug abuse. In Puttlam there had been a very significant increase of arrests in April 2018, compared to March 2018, while in Kalutara, Galle, Matale, Kurunegala, Kegalle, Anuradhapura, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Vavuniya have increased numbers in April, over March.
These numbers do not provide an accurate picture of the spread of hard drugs. It is common knowledge that arrests don’t take place regularly and in an independent manner. Under some police officers the crackdown begins ruthlessly and then dies down fast creating an impression everything had been brought under control, while some officers take it as just routine and is not made into “an issue”. In most instances and as general practice, it is drug users and addicts who are arrested with a “packet” or two and not the peddler in the area. Nor are “dealers and distributors” above the peddler tracked down. Yet, these numbers indicate the whole country is being swallowed up and the spread of hard drugs is an ever growing menace.
There is also a deviating tendency to project Cannabis as the most abusive drug and not other hard drugs like heroin, hashish, opium and numerous tablets that come with fancy names. The Drug Abuse Monitoring System (DAMS) Report of the NDDCB using numbers of drug addicts who received treatment and rehabilitation in the 03rd Quarter of 2017 shows Heroin and Opium as the more popular hard drugs in use. The same report says, street price of a packet of ‘one time use’ Cannabis during that period was around Rs.200 to 300, while that of Hashish or Heroin was around Rs.1,250 per packet.
Obviously, though the risk is high in trafficking hard drugs than transporting and peddling Cannabis, the profits are also extremely high with hard drugs. Thus, in a society where all systems have crashed with corruption and are greased by different mafias to roll over to their advantage, big time dealers decide priorities. Cannabis with lesser profits is therefore kept as most abusive and as a priority in curbing drug abuse with less importance given to hard drugs with big profits.
Piecing together most such information and inferences creates a terrifying picture that has politicians, law enforcement agencies, prison authorities and bigtime traffickers all working in tandem, creating a massive network that had never been broken into. That creates the possibility for those few who have been brought before the law and punished to be able to operate their own network, from within the prison cells. There is no doubt the prisons’ officialdom is as corrupt or more corrupt than most other State agencies and play an important role with prisoners who are big time dealers. Business from within prison cells is also possible, because law enforcement agencies don’t crackdown on dealer and distribution networks that have political interests at different levels, from “Pradeshiya Sabhas” to very high levels. As Minister Mangala Samaraweera told his media briefing, “Those in prison are only the second level drug dealers. The major drug dealers of this country are not in there. They are in Lions clubs. Rotary Clubs. In Buddhist organisations…..In a country where the police, the jury and the judge with drug dealers become one entity at times,…. if drug abuse can be curbed by death penalty, well, then its fine”
It is wholly irrational and naïve therefore to believe execution of the guilty would curb the drug menace and for a Head of State to declare those who continue their drug business even after being sentenced to prison, would be “executed”. This decision of the President in a way is extremely dangerous in a very corrupt system. In a system where money and politics not only could decide the “guilty” and the “innocent” but could also contract out the “death” of any person, another may decide as hindrance. This is more terrifying in our context where top police officials are implicated in murder and contract killing. It is therefore insane for religious leaders to sanitise this decision of the President that would mean licensed “murder” as decided by the President of the country.