Sri Lanka hires two hangmen for first executions in more than 40 years

Positions filled amid criticism from international and local groups over decision to revive death penalty

A Sri Lankan woman holds a placard during a protest condemning the death sentences for four people convicted of drug-related offences. Reuters
A Sri Lankan woman holds a placard during a protest condemning the death sentences for four people convicted of drug-related offences. Reuters

Sri Lanka has hired two hangmen for four prisoners convicted of drug charges,in its first executions in more than 40 years despite criticism from local and international groups.

Although the last execution was in 1976, an executioner was kept in the post until his retirement in 2014.

Since then, three replacements have left after short stints, including one who quit after seeing the gallows for the first time and another who never turned up for work.

The Prisons Department began the recruitment process in March but President Maithripala Sirisena did not announce an end to a moratorium on the death penalty, which was in force since 1976, until Wednesday.

Political analysts said the move was meant to boost his chances of re-election if he stands again this year.

"The recruitment process is finalised and two have been selected," prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya told Reuters. "The two need to go through final training, which will take about two weeks."

The men were among 100 who responded to an advertisement seeking male Sri Lankans aged between 18 and 45, with “excellent moral character” and “mental strength”.

Mr Sirisena said on Wednesday that he had signed the death warrants for the four men, but did not say when the executions would be carried out.

There has been mounting international criticism since the announcement.

Local and international rights groups, the UK, Canada, the EU and UN have raised concerns about restoring capital punishment.

Two petitions were filed to the Court of Appeal on Friday seeking to quash the move. There will be a preliminary hearing next week, AFP reported.

The EU said the executions would contradict the country’s commitment to maintain the moratorium on death penalty, made at the UN General Assembly last year, and send the wrong signals to the international community and investors.

“The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and the EU unequivocally opposes its use in all circumstances and all cases,” the bloc said.

“While the Sri Lankan authorities have cited the need to address drug-related offences, studies show that the death penalty fails to act as a deterrent to crime.”

Sri Lanka has been grappling with drug-related crimes for years and is believed to be used as a transit centre for trafficking.

Updated: July 1, 2019 02:40 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read