Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court extends stay on death penalty

Sirisena had vowed to hang ‘at least one drug dealer’

October 29, 2019 04:01 pm | Updated 10:05 pm IST - Colombo

Sri Lankan Police stand guard in front of the Supreme Court. File

Sri Lankan Police stand guard in front of the Supreme Court. File

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Tuesday extended an earlier interim order on the death penalty, preventing any attempt by President Maithripala Sirisena from ordering the execution of drug convicts during his last month in office.

Vowing to hand drug offenders, President Sirisena said in June that he had signed death warrants for four persons convicted in cases of drug offence. “They will be carried out soon,” he told the media then. However, following over a dozen petitions challenging the decision, the top court stayed the move early July, preventing the country’s first hanging in over four decades. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court bench extended the interim order until December 9.

Earlier this month, Mr. Sirisena promised to hang “at least one drug dealer” before his tenure ends, if the Supreme Court gave a favourable ruling, according to a news report published in the English daily The Island .

‘To save the nation’

Sri Lanka has maintained a moratorium on capital punishment since 1976 and not executed anyone in 43 years, though more than 400 persons have received confirmed death sentences.

Mr. Sirisena’s pledge to resume capital punishment has evoked serious concern from many Sri Lankans, and some in the international community, including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the U.K, EU, and Canada.

Justifying his decision then, President Sirisena said: “I signed the document to execute the drug offenders not with hatred and cruelty towards anyone, but to save the nation and the future generation from the drug menace, which is our worst social catastrophe.”

Presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa has endorsed the death penalty, though his United National Party is against it. Other contestants, including frontrunner Gotabaya Rajapaksa, have not commented on the issue.

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