Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday (June 26) signed the death warrants to hang four drug convicts, ending a four-decade-long moratorium on the capital punishment in the country.
Sirisena said he was committed to bringing back capital punishment for drug offenders, months after vowing a tougher line on spiralling narcotics-related crime. The last execution in Sri Lanka was 43 years ago. “I have signed the relevant documents and forwarded them to the concerned authorities,” Sirisena said.
He said that he treats the drug menace as the main problem in the country where over 60 per cent of the island’s 24,000 people in jail are sentenced due to drug addiction. Drug trafficking is a capital offence in Sri Lanka, which authorities believe is being used by peddlers as a transit hub.
“I will not announce the dates for hanging because it can create problems in the prisons,” Sirisena said, adding that “they will be carried out soon”. Sirisena’s signing of death warrants have come during the ongoing ‘Drug Prevention’ week from June 23 to July 1. He took the decision despite Sri Lanka becoming party to a UN moratorium on death penalty in 2016.
All of Sirisena’s predecessors as Presidents had refused to sign the death warrants to carry out capital punishment. The death sentences have been commuted to life terms which usually lasts 20 years. The last hanging came in June 1976 when Siripala alias Maru Sira, a noted criminal was hanged for murder and Sri Lanka’s last hangman quit in 2014 without ever having to execute anyone, citing stress after seeing the gallows for the first time. Another hired last year never turned up for work.
Justice Ministry in March said that there were over 450 prisoners in Sri Lankan jails, including five women. Out of that at least 48 are drug convicts. While 30 of them had appealed against their death sentence, 18 of them could be hanged, officials said. Sirisena said that he would sign death warrants only for the drug convicts.
Sri Lanka in March advertised to recruit two hangmen to carry out executions. There were over 100 applications received by February 25 deadline, officials said. The New York-based rights group ‘Human Rights Watch’ said in April that around 1,299 Sri Lankan prisoners, including 84 women are on death row.
“Imposing the death penalty for drug offences would violate Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations,” the HRW said.