South Asia

‘Sri Lanka gearing up to hang drug offenders’

Prisons authorities say they have not received any official communication

Following up on his earlier pledge to hang drug offenders, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has recently signed papers for executions, according to a top government source.
Mr. Sirisena has signed death warrants for four convicts in cases of drugs offence. "They will be carried out soon", he told media representatives at a meeting on Wednesday morning.
The move is in connection with the ‘National Drug Prevention Week’ being observed from June 23 to July 1, the senior official source told The Hindu, on condition of anonymity.
This comes three months after Mr. Sirisena announced that he had fixed a date to hang convicted drug traffickers, effectively lifting a four-decade-old moratorium on capital punishment.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International on Tuesday said it was “alarmed to learn” that the Sri Lankan government was preparing to execute at least 13 prisoners convicted in drug-related crimes. In a statement, Amnesty urged Mr. Sirisena to immediately halt his “plans to resume executions” for drug offenders, referring to earlier media reports suggesting “preparations are under way”.
However, Sri Lanka’s Commissioner General of Prisons T.M.J.W. Thennakoon dismissed the reports as “completely wrong”. “As of June 25, 8 p.m., I have received no official communication from the Presidential secretariat regarding this,” he told The Hindu, when contacted on Tuesday.
Last week, local media reported that Mr. Sirisena was considering signing papers to execute drug offenders. In a full-page government advertisement on the ‘National Drug Prevention Week’, carried in the state-run Daily News on Monday,the words ‘Death penalty for drug dealers’ were highlighted in bold, red font within a circle, resembling a stamped seal.
Sri Lankan courts have sentenced many convicts to death in the past, but no one has been executed since 1976, with their sentences invariably commuted to life. The most recent verdict came last week, when the Colombo High Court awarded death sentence to a man found guilty of possessing 4.40 grams of heroin in 2013.
“We are dismayed by these reports that will see Sri Lanka surrender its positive record on the death penalty. Executions will not rid Sri Lanka of drug-related crime. They represent the failure to build a humane society where the protection of life is valued. The last thing that Sri Lanka needs right now is more death in the name of vengeance,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International, Colombo.
Amid growing instances of drug trafficking in and via Sri Lanka, President Sirisena has repeatedly made a case for severe punishment for drug offenders. After his announcement on reviving the death penalty, authorities advertised for a hangman with “excellent moral character”.
The recruitment process is going on, but the Department of Prisons is yet to appoint anybody to the position, Mr. Thennakoon said.
According to official figures, nearly 460 persons currently in prison, including five women, have been awarded confirmed death sentences.

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