The Vagaries of Moral Progress (3): To Hang or Not to Hang in Sri Lanka

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vagaries of moral progress
The Hanging of John Brown 1860 Drawing by Victor Hugo

The Hanging of John Brown, 1860, Drawing by Victor Hugo

Sri Lanka hasn’t hanged a man in 35 years. Although suspended in 1977 (the last execution took place the previous year), capital punishment remains in the statute books. There are currently 369 convicts on death row while a further 471 have appealed their sentences.

With nothing happening at the two gallows, the prisons department wasn’t rushed to find replacements when one hangman retired and another was promoted, a year ago. But a wave of serious crime, including the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl, has reopened the debate on capital punishment. …

This … hasn’t yet translated into Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president, actually authorising an execution. The law requires him to sign the death warrant. Nevertheless, prison officials, not wanting to be caught out, hurried to advertise for hangmen. As P.W. Koddipili, the commissioner general of prisons, explained, they had to be ready. …

Ironically, neither of the two previous executioners hanged anybody during their tenure. Training the new recruits, therefore, poses a challenge. (source)

No surprise therefore that several of the shortlisted hopefuls asked an unexpected question of the board of interviewers: what exactly would they be expected to do?

More posts in this series are here. More on capital punishment here.

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