14.11.2019

Sri Lanka president rejects UN chief’s appeal over hangings

Sri Lanka’s president has said he rejected an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over the telephone to reconsider his push to reintroduce the death penalty after 43 years.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena says the EU threatened to withdraw tariff concessions if executions go ahead [File: MA Pushpa Kumara/EPA]

“I told the secretary-general that I want to save my country from drugs,” Maithripala Sirisena told a meeting in Colombo to mark his anti-narcotics drive on Monday.

“He telephoned me last week shortly after I signed four death warrants. I told him to please allow me to stamp out the drug menace,” Sirisena said.

Sirisena told reporters on Wednesday that he had signed death warrants for four drug offenders, but did not give their names nor say when and where the executions would be carried out.

He accused the European Union of interfering in the internal affairs of his country, saying that EU diplomats had threatened him with tariffs if Sri Lanka went ahead with the executions.

“The EU told me that they will withdraw the GSP Plus [tariff concession] if I go ahead,” Sirisena said. “This is interfering with the sovereignty and independence of our country. It is unacceptable.”

He also took a swipe at Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and at non-governmental organisations that had criticised him over his stance.

Wickremesinghe had on Sunday said that a majority of parliament members were against Sirisena’s decision to resume executions.

Sirisena faces several court challenges to his decision to restore the death penalty.

In the latest case filed in the Supreme Court on Monday, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) noted it was long recognised that hanging by death was a cruel and inhuman form of punishment, not befitting a multi-religious and civilised society.

“Though convicts have been sentenced to death, the long recognised practice in Sri Lanka for over 43 years has been that they were not executed,” the CPA’s executive director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said.

Justice Ministry sources said they were yet to fill the vacancies for two hangmen, although 26 candidates had been shortlisted for the job.

An executioner was in the post until his retirement in 2014, although no hangings were carried out since June 1976. Three replacements since have quit after short stints at the unused gallows.

Sirisena’s office has said the president wanted the hangings to send a powerful message to anyone engaged in the illegal drugs trade.

Sirisena said there were 200,000 drug addicts in the country, and 60 percent of the 24,000-strong prison population were drug offenders.

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