Colombo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Sunday he and his United National Party (UNP) are opposed to the capital punishment, as President Maithripala Sirisena attempts to end a 43-year moratorium on death penalty to start executing drug convicts.
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 having become a party to the UN moratorium on death penalty and voting in favour of the moratorium just six months back.
The international condemnation of decision to resume capital punishment has been coming since the President made his announcement. “I have discussed it with at least four parties in parliament and all of them are opposed to the capital punishment. I and my party are also opposed to it,” Wickremesinghe.
This is not the first time that the two leaders have difference of opinions. Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe last October, triggering a constitutional crisis in the country. President Sirisena on Wednesday signed the death warrants to hang four drug convicts.
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 last 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.