Sri Lankan prison officials await President Maithripala Sirisena's hanging order

Colombo, Sri LankaUpdated: Jun 27, 2019, 01:29 PM IST

File photo of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. Photograph:(AFP)

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President Sirisena on Wednesday signed the death warrants to hang four drug convicts, ending a four-decade-long moratorium on the capital punishment in Sri Lanka.

Prison officials in Sri Lanka Thursday said they were yet to receive the documents related to President Maithripala Sirisena's signed death warrants to hang four drug convicts.

President Sirisena on Wednesday signed the death warrants to hang four drug convicts, ending a four-decade-long moratorium on the capital punishment in Sri Lanka.

 The last execution in Sri Lanka was 43 years ago. A senior prison official told reporters they have not received any written instructions for the hanging until Thursday morning.

"The president's secretary must write to the secretary to the ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms. Then the ministry secretary must intimate in writing to the Commissioner General of Prisons," said the official who did not want to be named.

He said the four convicts would be informed in writing of their death sentence and if they are currently housed in any other prison, then they would have to be brought to the Welikada prison in the capital Colombo.

Sirisena said Wednesday he was committed to bringing back capital punishment for drug offenders, months after vowing a tougher line on spiralling narcotics-related crime.

This was despite Sri Lanka has become a party to the UN moratorium on the death penalty and voting in favour of the moratorium just six months back.
The international condemnation of the decision to resume capital punishment has been coming since the President made his announcement.

The British government in a statement condemned the move, saying the decision would have implications on many areas including counter-terrorism cooperation.

The decision would hamper Sri Lanka's reputation as a tourist destination, the statement added.

The decision will require us to review our technical assistance programme on relevant policing, defence and other security issues, it said.
Sirisena's signing of death warrants came during the ongoing 'Drug Prevention' week from June 23 to July 1.

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 hangman hired last year never turned up for work.

Justice Ministry in March said 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 appealed against their death sentence, 18 of them could be hanged, officials said.

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 (HRW) said in April that some 1299 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.

Sirisena said he would sign death warrants only for the drug convicts.