Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena underlined the importance of his campaign to combat the drug related crimes in the island nation. (Getty Images)

President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday 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.

Last week, President Sirisena signed the death warrants to hang four drug convicts, ending a four-decade-long moratorium on capital punishment in the country.

Addressing the National Drug Prevention Day event here, Sirisena underlined the importance of his campaign to combat the drug-related crimes in the island nation.

The President said that the 28-member European Union bloc has threatened to withdraw the EU GSP Plus trade concession if Sri Lanka implements the death penalty.

“This is a threat on our sovereignty,” Sirisena said referring to the EU comments that Sri Lanka’s GSP+ trade facility which was restored after 2015 when Sirisena became the president could be under threat if Sri Lanka hanged people.

“I openly say that what the EU is saying is a threat, They should not issue threats to independent countries. They cannot interfere in our sovereignty,” Sirisena said.

Sirisena’s decision has come in spite of Sri Lanka supporting the UN moratorium on the death penalty.

He said he had signed four death warrants on drug convicts who are currently in jail condemned to death. Their sentences have been commuted to life terms as all Sri Lankan presidents since 1978 refused to sign death warrants. He did not announce a date for the hanging to take place.

Sirisena also slammed the Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Opposition for opposing implementing the death penalty on serious offenders of illegal drug trafficking.

He said that countries like the US and China implement the death penalty.

The last hanging in Sri Lanka took place in June 1976 when Siripala alias Maru Sira, a noted criminal was hanged for murder. The country’s last hangman quit in 2014 without ever having to execute anyone, citing stress after seeing the gallows for the first time. Another hired last year never turned up for work.

Justice Ministry in March said there were over 450 prisoners in Sri Lankan jails, including five women. Out of that, at least 48 are drug convicts. While 30 of them had appealed against their death sentence, 18 of them could be hanged, officials said.

Sirisena has said that he would sign the death warrants only for drug convicts.

The EU’s GSP+ facility which gave Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU preferred tax status was suspended in 2008 when Sri Lanka’s human rights record came to be questioned under Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime.

After Sirisena defeated Rajapaksa as the then Opposition’s common challenger the GSP+ facility came to be restored as a goodwill measure towards the new government.

PTI