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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 11:54 GMT

World: South Asia

Sri Lanka revives death penalty

Buddhist values are opposed to the taking of any life

Capital punishment is to be an option again in Sri Lanka, in a bid to control rising crime, the government said on Saturday.

Susannah Price in Colombo: "The move will raise protests from human rights groups"
The death penalty has been in abeyance since 1977, because successive presidents declined to sign the death orders. By law the president is required to sign a special warrant after a court has handed down a conviction in a capital case.

Death sentences have instead been commuted to life imprisonment.

Announcing the change, a statement from the office of Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said: "The death sentence imposed by court in cases of murder and drug trafficking will be carried out, and will not be commuted to life imprisonment."

At least 12 people are facing a sentence of death in Sri Lanka.

The BBC Colombo Correspondent, Susannah Price says the move will inevitably raise protests from human rights groups, and adds that there are already fears that the range of offences could be extended by emergency decree.

'Crime wave'

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist society, a religion which teaches the sanctity of all life, but correspondents say pressure for the return of the death penalty has been mounting over recent years.

Police say the country is suffering from a crime wave and last year the gruesome murder of a honeymooning Indian woman seems to have persuaded many people that a change was needed.

Amnesties tightened

In future, prisoners whose sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment will now serve a minimum 20 years in jail. Until now a prisoner could expect to be considered for remissions after serving four years of a life sentence.

Further changes mean an end to amnesties granted to commemorate religious festivals and other social occasions. Only Independence Day will continue to be marked in this way.

"In any event this remission will not be granted to persons convicted of serious crimes, such as rape, child abuse, robbery, unauthorised possession of firearms, acts of terrorism and drug trafficking," the statement said.

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