Study proposes experts’ discussion

A sociological research conducted on the death penalty in the country has proposed that experts from different fields such as criminology, psychology, religion and law and order should have a roundtable discussion regarding the implementation of the death penalty. There should be a public opinion formed following a public discourse on either implementing it or banning it, the researcher proposed.

In a paper published in the International Journal of Scientific Research and Innovative Technology in August 2016 titled the ‘Sociological Analysis on the Death Penalty in Sri Lanka’ authored by Professor at the Department of Sociology of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Kelaniya, A. Wasantha K. Subasinghe questions such as the feelings of prisoners waiting for death were posed and objectives such as identifying the prisoners point of view concerning their punishment were set in the research.

The data for the research was collected through formal interviews conducted at the Welikada Prison with a sample of 20 prisoners who had been sentenced to death (60 per cent) and life (40%) and 20 other convicts who received different sentences.

Of the ages of the prisoners, 60% were between 51 and 60 years of age while 30% were above 60.

On the number of years spent in prison, 55% had already spent more than six years while 25% had already spent more than 15 years (two prisoners had spent less than a year in prison, two others had spent between two to five years, seven had spent between six to 10 years, four had spent between 11 to 15 years while five had spent between 16 to 20 years).

Of their educational level, no one had learnt above Grade 10 while 40% had learnt up to Grade Five, 30% below Grade Eight, and 30% below Grade 10.
All were hailing from rural areas (45% from the South and 20% from the Sabaragamuwa Province and especially the Ratnapura District) and 60% were farmers (paddy and chena cultivators) and 60% were businessmen, some of whom had engaged in illegal drug selling and selling meat.

An overwhelming majority of the offenders (95%) were convicted for murder (over land-related matters, love affairs, fights and financial matters, among others).

On the sample’s attitude towards the death penalty, Prof. Subasinghe noted that ‘in their point of view, living with the decision of both life imprisonment and the death penalty was too difficult and tough.’ Over 75% had wished for the implementation of the death penalty as they suffered in the course of life as they had to live with the knowledge that they are waiting for their death.

According to the article ‘Implementing the Capital Punishment in Sri Lanka: Some Views and Jurisprudential Thought’ authored by Chamila Talagala, the issues arising out of the delay of the execution of the death sentence have been dealt with by the United Kingdom’s Privy Council in Earl Pratt and Another v. Attorney General for Jamaica and Another (1993 – UKPC 37) and Riley v. Attorney General of Jamaica (1983 – 1 A.C. 719) and the Indian Supreme Court in Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu (1983 – 2 S.C.R. 348), Sher Singh and Others v. The State of Punjab (1983 – 2 S.C.R. 582), and Smt. Treveniben v. State of Gujarat (1989 – 1 S.C.J. 383).

According to the death penalty offenders in Prof. Subasinghe’s research, instead of the death penalty, they are expecting a replacement in the sentence of the latter being commuted to life imprisonment while those punished with life imprisonment sought a lessening of their punishment in terms of the number of years to be spent in prison.  

On the impact of the death penalty on the lives of the offenders, the majority had expressed satisfaction with their day to day life (engaging in activities and work related to weaving, coir work, cooking, bakery, laundry, tailoring, cleaning, farming, office work, and religious work, among others, while also attending counselling programmes, almsgiving programmes, health related programmes and cultural programmes) while some had questioned about the rehabilitation programme.

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