Sri Lanka court suspends executions until October 30

Supreme Court issues injunction temporarily barring capital punishment.

A group of Sri Lankans hold placards during a protest condemning signed death sentences for four people convicted of drug-related offences
Human rights groups and several governments have raised concerns about the restoration of capital punishment in Sri Lanka, where no prisoners have been executed since 1976 [File: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Sri Lanka‘s Supreme Court has issued a temporary injunction against the execution of four people, suspending President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to end a 43-year-old moratorium on capital punishment by hanging the drug convicts.

The court on Friday banned any executions until October 30, by when it is expected to have ruled on a petition seeking a declaration that hanging breaches the country’s constitution.

“The court will take up hearing the case on October 29 and in the meantime, the prisons department was asked not to implement any order by the president to carry out the death penalty,” a court official said.

MA Sumanthiran, a Sri Lankan legislator and a lawyer representing a condemned prisoner, said death by hanging was a “cruel and degrading punishment”.

“It is the fundamental right of any individual not to be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment,” said Sumanthiran. “It is on that basis we want courts to hold that execution of capital punishment is a violation of the Constitution.”

The challenge added to several other cases filed in lower courts.

Drugs a ‘menace’

The court’s decision came after Sirisena announced last week he had signed death warrants for four people, whose names were not disclosed, amid alarm over drug-related crime in the country.

He said the dates of the executions have been decided, but they have not yet been announced, and added that the hangings should be a deterrent to the illegal drugs trade. He claimed there were 200,000 drug addicts in the country, and 60 percent of the 24,000-strong prison population were drug offenders.

Last week, prison authorities recruited two new hangmen to carry out the execution orders after the two previous hangmen quit, in 2014 and last year, without executing anyone.

Human rights groups, the UK, Canada, the European Union and United Nations have all raised concerns about the restoration of capital punishment on the Indian Ocean island, where no prisoners have been executed since 1976.

Earlier this week, Sirisena said he rejected a telephone appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to reconsider reintroducing the death penalty.

He also called drugs a “menace” and accused the EU of interfering in the internal affairs of his country, saying that EU diplomats had threatened him with tariffs if Sri Lanka proceeded with the four executions.

Authorities allege the island is being used by dealers as a transit hub.

Source: News Agencies