COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Friday suspended President Maithripala Sirisena’s moves to end a 43-year-old moratorium on capital punishment by hanging four drug convicts.
The court banned any executions until it has 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,” Sumanthiran said. “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.
Sirisena told reporters on June 26 that he had signed four death warrants for convicted drug offenders and he expected them to be hanged within weeks.
Sri Lanka’s last hangman retired in 2014, but officials said they had selected two out of 26 candidates to become executioners although their names were being kept secret for fear of attacks.
Media reports said the two men had not been assigned any work.
Sirisena has said the hangings should be a deterrent to the illegal drugs trade.
Sirisena said there were 200,000 drug addicts in the country, and 60 per cent of the 24,000-strong prison population were drug offenders.
Earlier this week, Sirisena said he rejected a telephone appeal by United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres to reconsider reintroducing the death penalty.
The president has not disclosed the names of the four people he wants executed nor said when they will be hanged.
He has come under international pressure to give up his plan.
This week he accused the European Union of interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs by opposing his capital punishment plan.