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Sri Lankan executions announced

President says increased drug crime justifies four planned hangings, but rights groups condemn the move

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: June 27, 2019 09:53 AM GMT

Updated: June 27, 2019 10:14 AM GMT

Sri Lankan executions announced

A file image of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo taken on Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered the execution of four convicted drug dealers.

Sirisena said on June 26 that he had already signed the requisite documents for imposition of the death penalty to proceed and that authorization had been given to prison authorities.

Sri Lanka has not carried out any executions since 1976, but as of February there were 48 prisoners on the nation's so-called death row.

President Sirisena has defended the decision to resume executions by stating that drugs have become a serious national problem involving some 300,000 addicts.

He said the hangings would take place “very soon” but no date was announced.

"None of the four prisoners or their families have yet been notified," Sirisena said.

"We don’t want to announce their names yet as it may lead to unrest in the prisons.”

According to media reports, the four condemned convicts will be notified two weeks prior to their scheduled executions, but they will have an opportunity to appeal to the president against the hangings proceeding.

A number of international rights’ organizations, including Amnesty International, have criticized the intended return of the hangman’s noose, noting that some 106 countries have already abolished the death penalty.

Amnesty International’s South Asia director, Biraj Patnaik, said in a June 25 statement that executions are not an effective deterrent to drug crimes.

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"At a time when other countries have come to the realization that their drug control policies are in need of reform, and are taking steps to reduce the use of the death penalty, Sri Lanka is bucking the trend," Patnaik said.

"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.

“The taking of a human life by the state is one of the gravest acts a government can commit.

“The severity of the punishment as a minimum requires complete transparency as a key safeguard of due process.”

Sri Lankan Catholics, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, priests and other religious leaders, have organized several protest marches and rallies against the increased abuse of illegal drugs.

The country has been used for years as a transit point for drugs, but now concerns are growing about the local scourge of illegal drugs, especially amongst young people, including children.

At the end of March, Catholic faithful in the capital, Colombo, were involved in anti-drug abuse demonstrations and Cardinal Ranjith issued a pastoral letter in April urging all parishes and church institutions to denounce drug peddlers.

Sri Lankan authorities have intercepted large shipments of cocaine, including one of nearly 720 kilograms on April 1.

President Sirisena is under political pressure to take strong action to combat rising crime and also terrorism in the wake of Easter suicide bomb attacks that killed more than 250 people.

However, human rights' organizations have said that responses should not include executions.

The International Commission of Jurists called for abandoning of the death penalty in Sri Lanka, describing it as an inhuman and degrading punishment that violates the right to life.

The European Union reiterated its opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and encouraged Sri Lanka to maintain its moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka said in a statement in August 2018 that the death penalty would not end the drug problem in the country.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a letter to bishops on Aug. 1, 2018, announcing that a revision of church teachings had been approved by Pope Francis.

The revision stated categorically that the death penalty is inadmissible and unnecessary.

British colonial rulers in Sri Lanka banned forms of execution such as beheading and drowning, but they introduced hanging.

Following a visit to the Philippines in January, President Sirisena said he wanted to copy President Rodrigo Duterte's tactics for dealing with drugs.

Duterte has effectively endorsed extrajudicial killings in his so-called war against illegal drugs, with critics putting the death toll at 12,000 or more.

Sri Lankan social activist Pubudu Nagahawatta concedes the significant negative community impacts of drug abuse as well as family suffering and the slow deaths of addicts themselves.

But he maintains that capital punishment does not provide a solution and warns that if the four planned executions proceed, Sri Lanka’s international reputation will be devastated.

"We hope that President Sirisena will reconsider his decision," Nagahawatta said.

In 2004, the then government moved to reinstate executions for rape, drug trafficking and murder, but amid widespread opposition no executions were carried out.

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