Several right to information (RTI) requests have been filed seeking information pertaining to those facing potential execution on a Presidential decree.
The information requests filed by two journalists on 13 February have been addressed to the Secretary to the President, Udaya Ranjith Seneviratne, the Attorney General (AG), President’s Counsel Jayantha Jayasuriya, and Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms, Attorney-At-Law Thalatha Atukorale.
Senior Assistant Secretary (Information Division/Unit) at the Presidential Secretariat, Iresha N. Weerasekara in a letter sent to one of the said requestors on 25 February, acknowledged receipt of the information request.
The requests were filed according to Article 14A(1)(a) of the Constitution concerning the right of access to information held by the State, a Ministry or any Government Department or any statutory body, which is required for the exercise and protection of a citizen’s right, and Section 3(1) of the RTI Act, No. 12 of 2016 on the right of access to information in the possession, custody and control of a public authority and Section 24(1) of the RTI Act on the procedure to be followed for obtaining information.
The information sought includes names and particulars of prisoners sentenced to death upon conviction for drug related offences who the relevant authorities allege are yet engaged in committing drug related crimes whilst incarcerated on death row, several of whom are proposed to be subjected to the implementation of the death penalty. The latter has been mentioned publicly on several occasions by President Maithripala Sirisena.
Atukorale previously stated that related information sought by the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms at the request of the President and provided by the Commissioner General of Prisons, H.M.N.C. Dhanasinghe, had subsequently been sent by the Ministry to the AG which the latter had in turn sent to the Ministry, which has then sent the information to the Presidential Secretariat.
Presently, although the sentence of death is imposed on certain convicts by courts of law/the judiciary, there is a moratorium imposed on the implementation of the capital punishment. Further, Articles 12(1) and 12(2) of the Constitution guarantees the right to equality and equal protection of the law, and non-discrimination.
Those requesting information have claimed that the information they call for concerns the life and personal liberty of citizens.
Recently, Secretary General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo in an open letter addressed to President Sirisena warned against pursuing the path of the Philippines where under President Rodrigo Duterte there has been a wave of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug offenders over the past three years, a murderous campaign which has overwhelmingly targeted denizens of impoverished neighbourhoods and has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 including dozens of children. The latter killings are currently the subject of a preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.
“Executions are not a show of strength but an admission of weakness. They represent the failure to create a society where the protection of the right to life triumphs over the temptations of vengeance. For those of us who believe that human life must hold the highest value, taking it away is the lowliest Act,” he observed further.
Section 285(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) Act, No. 15 of 1979 (as Amended) notes that when a person is sentenced to death, it is the President that decides when (date) and where (location) the said convict is to be ‘hanged by the neck’ till he/she is dead. According to Section 286 of the CCP Act, upon the pronouncement of a death sentence, the presiding trial Judge (High Court and above) who passed the sentence has to forward his/her notes of evidence and a report to the President which sets out his/her opinion as to whether there are any reasons as to why the sentence should or should not be carried out, and spell those reasons out (alternate provisions are made in the case the presiding trial Judge is absent or unable to do so).
The President would thereinafter inform the Court of his/her order (stay the warrant of execution or state the date, time and place of the execution).
–By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody