In Brief

Sri Lankan government recruiting hangmen as drug war escalates

Executioners needed as President Maithripala Sirisena ends moratorium on capital punishment

The Sri Lankan government has launched a recruitment drive for hangmen with “excellent moral character”, amid plans to lift a decades-old moratorium on capital punishment.

President Maithripala Sirisena told the nation’s parliament last week that he aims to bring back the death penalty for drug traffickers within the next two months, as part of a hard-line programme to combat drug trafficking. 

State-run newspaper the Daily News is now running a recruitment advertisement for “the post of Executioner of the Department of Prisons”, with a monthly salary of 36,310 rupees (£158), which is above average for a government job. The ideal candidate is described as a male Sri Lankan national aged between 18 and 45, with both “excellent moral character” and “mental strength”.

“We never know if the government will resume the death penalty, but we want to hire two hangmen to fill vacancies and be ready if the government wants to execute drug traffickers,” prison service spokesperson Thushara Upuldeniya told Reuters.

However, government recruiters may have their work cut out for them. The BBC reports that the last hangman “resigned in 2014 after seeing the gallows for the first time and going into shock”, while another was “hired last year but never turned up for work”.

The last execution in Sri Lanka was in 1976. Although death sentences have been handed down since by the nation’s courts for murder and drug trafficking convictions, these sentences have been automatically commuted to life in prison.

Sky News reports that the decision to resume hangings was “inspired by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs”, which has left thousands dead. During a state visit to the Philippines in January, President Sirisena praised Duterte’s brutal crackdown as an “example to the world” .

Authorities “fear Sri Lanka is becoming a transit hub for the narcotics trade in Asia”, after seizing more than 1,500kg (16.5 tonnes) of cocaine in 2017, adds the broadcaster.

But Giada Girelli, a human rights analyst with the Harm Reduction International drug policy research group, said there is no evidence that carrying out executions would serve “as an effective deterrent to drug use or trafficking”.

“It will buck the global trend away from use of the death penalty and only serve to harm the health and human rights of Sri Lanka’s citizens,” she said.

Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International, added that “there is no place for the death penalty in a civilised society”.

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