Sri Lanka on Friday said it plans to hire two hangmen, two days after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he might sign off on the execution of convicted drug traffickers arranging drug deals from jail.
A prison official said applicants would be sought for two positions of executioner that have been vacant since March 2014, when the last hangman quit soon after setting eyes on the gallows for the first time.
Drug trafficking carries the death penalty in Sri Lankam but no one has been executed for any crime in the country since 1976. All death penalties have been commuted to life in prison since then.
However, Sri Lanka, like other countries in Asia that have cracked down on drugs, feels it is being overwhelmed by narcotics and the president has said action was needed.
“Since the president said he was going to implement capital punishment, we need to get ready. So we are going to hire two hangmen,” prison service spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya told reporters. “We will advertise and call applications for the vacancies next week.”
Sirisena on Wednesday told a public gathering there were convicted drug traffickers arranging drugs deals from prison and he might sign off on execution orders for them.
At least 18 people convicted for drug offenses could be executed, Upuldeniya said.
There were also 356 people on death row for murder, he said.
Thousands of people have been killed in a war on drugs in the Philippines and scores have been killed in a similar campaign in Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country, in 2015 voted in favor of a UN resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty.
International drug smugglers have increasingly turned to Sri Lanka as a transit hub in Asia, authorities have said.
However, many citizens have bemoaned a sharp rise in all crime, not just drug dealing, since the end of a 26-year civil war with ethnic Tamil separatists in 2009.
Rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Sirisena not to implement the death penalty, saying that Sri Lanka should preserve its long-standing positive record on shunning “cruel and irreversible punishment.”
Sri Lanka has had no executioner since March 2014, when the hangman quit weeks after he was hired, citing stress. Two hangmen hired in 2013 failed to show up.