COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has hired two hangmen as it prepares for executions of four prisoners convicted of drug offences in what would be the country’s first use of the death penalty for over 40 years, prison authorities said on Friday.
The Prisons Department began the recruitment process in March after the last hangman quit in 2014, citing stress after seeing the gallows for the first time. Another, hired last year, never turned up for work.
President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Wednesday an end to a moratorium on the death penalty in force since 1976, a move political analysts said was meant to boost his chances of re-election if he stands again later this year.
Local and international rights groups, along with former colonial master Britain, Canada, the European Union and United Nations have raised concerns about the South Asian nation’s restoration of capital punishment.
“The recruitment process is finalised and two (hangmen) have been selected. The two need to go through final training which will take about two weeks,” prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said.
The two were picked from among 100 applicants who responded to an advertisement calling for male Sri Lankans aged between 18 and 45 with “excellent moral character” and “mental strength”.
Prisons Commissioner T.M.J.W. Thennakoon declined to provide details of the four convicts whose death penalties were approved by the president.
On Friday, a petitioner - a Sri Lankan journalist - filed public interest litigation seeking to stop any executions, arguing that people’s rights were being violated. A court hearing will be held on July 2, and Thennakoon pledged that there would be no executions for the next seven days.
A spokesman for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Thursday international drug control conventions cannot be used to justify the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences alone.
“Application of the death penalty may also impede international cooperation in fighting drug trafficking as there are national laws that (bar) the exchange of information and extradition with countries which may impose capital punishment for the offences concerned,” the UNODC spokesman said.
Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Martin Howell