Lanka's top court halts executions until Oct 30

Wednesday 10th July 2019 06:08 EDT

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's Supreme Court halted the execution of four people until October 29, a week after the country's president announced he would end the country's 43-year moratorium on the death penalty. The apex court's order came after it took into consideration 11 petitions filed in various courts against President Maithripala Sirisena's order and termed it as a violation of the fundamental rights of the convicts. One such petition was filed by MA Sumanthiran, a lawyer, claiming that Sirisena's decision impinges on the rights of one of the drug convicts. "The case argument was that hanging would be a cruel and degrading treatment", he said.

Sirisena is facing mounting criticism from his countrymen as well as the international community, including European Union, since he passed the order. Sri Lanka became a party to the UN moratorium on death penalty and voted in favour of the moratorium just six months back. The British government in a statement condemned the move, saying the decision would have implications on many areas, including counter-terrorism cooperation.

Sirisena accused the European Union of challenging Sri Lanka's sovereignty by threatening with tariffs if capital punishment is re-introduced in the country after 43 years. He also claimed to have turned down a telephonic call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to reconsider his decision to reintroduce death penalty.

Sirisena has said narcotic drugs have become a menace with 300,000 addicts across the island nation, which authorities say is being used by dealers as a transit hub. He said 60% of the country's 24,000 inmates were jailed for drug-related offenses. Sri Lanka's prisons were built to accommodate 11,000 people. Drug trafficking is a capital offense, but no prisoners have been executed since 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners are on death row, including 48 convicted of drug offenses.

In April, police publicly destroyed 770 kg of drugs seized in 2016 and 2017. Police have seized 731 kg of heroin, 1 kg of cocaine and 1,607 kg of marijuana so far this year. Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in Sri Lanka, followed by heroin and cocaine. Drug-related arrests rose 2% in 2017 from the previous year to 81,156.

Sirisena, who visited the Philippines in January, praised President Rodrigo Duterte's harsh crackdown on illegal drugs as "an example to the world." Thousands of suspects, mostly urban poor, have been slain since Duterte took office in 2016. Rights groups have denounced what they say are extrajudicial killings. Police say most of the suspects were killed in encounters with officers.

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