Prisons Dept. gets 102 applications for executioner post including one foreign applicant: ‘An eye for an eye’ | Sunday Observer

Prisons Dept. gets 102 applications for executioner post including one foreign applicant: ‘An eye for an eye’

Being a male between 18 to 45 years and having passed six subjects with two credit passes at G.C.E. O/Ls is not sufficient to be an executioner. One needs to have a good moral character according to an advertisement published by the Department of Prisons recently (DP).

According to DP sources there are already 102 applicants for the post of executioner including one from the USA who had shown interest in the job via an email sent to the Department of Prisons.

However, the Department of Prisons has not taken the application seriously as it was by a non-Sri Lankan who is not eligible to take up the job. According to DP sources police officers and persons with higher educational qualifications are among the applicants.

Currently there are over 1,000 male and female inmates who have been sentenced to death.

Capital punishment

The death penalty is seen by some as the ‘eye for an eye’ and ‘tooth for a tooth’ retaliation where the person who injures another should be penalised in a similar degree.

Former Prisons Commissioner C.T. Jansz shared his views on executions.

He was a former Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board and a member of the Human Rights Task Force which eventually became the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

“The Constitution guarantees the right to live. The capital punishment is an irreversible punishment. Now they say that prison inmates are involved in drug trafficking. If so it is a lapse on the part of the prison officers who should be penalised. We remember the Welikada incident in 2012 and now a Prison Commissioner is in jail for letting outsiders to come in to the prison premises” Jansz said.

“We should look at the issue from a human point of view. Imposing the death penalty is not an effective means to bring down the crime rate in a country. When a person commits a crime he or she should be made to pay for it. Executing is not the solution” he added. The Chairperson for the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners’ (CPRP) Senaka Perera told the Sunday Observer the death penalty should be condemned by all means.

“Introducing the death penalty without a professional law enforcement body will aggravate the situation. The Rathgama incident is a case in point. The politicians are steering the country in the wrong direction” he said.The politicians have brought up the topic of death penalty to cover up their acts of bribery and corruption. There are laws to prevent drug offences but they are not being enforced to penalise offenders. Instead the authorities make a big fuss over of the crime rate and drug convicts. This is real political propaganda” he added.

He said the CPRP will object if the government is to resume the capital punishment.

“Politicians can help eradicate the drug menace if they are at it and work hard. They know their electorates well and if they can unite to stop drug trafficking in their electorates that is a pragmatic solution to the problem” said Jansz.


The former executioner P.S.U. Prematillake who commenced work with a big bang later fled the prison premises secretly.

He underwent training by the Department of Prisons on the role he had to play as an executioner. However, the sight of the gallows made him change his mind and give up the job.

Prisoners who are sentenced to death are kept at the chapel ward. The gallows of the Welikada Prison are located in the chapel ward room C. However, in the past when scaffolds were used to execute criminals, the PD did not have to look for an executioner. It was a job passed down from father to son.

Following the enactment of Capital punishment for the first time in Sri Lanka in September 23, 1779, the first execution took place on February 10, 1812. Kalu Appu, a resident of Ingiriya was the first to be executed by hanging.

The executor was paid three Pounds by the British government.

His attire had cost 10 Pounds while another 4 Pounds was spent on the special attire of Kalu Appu.

From 1935 to around the 1940’s executions were carried out by a father and his son. Lewis Singno thenjoined the duo and ended up as the executioner of the Welikada Prison till 1979. Records reveal that around 2,173 persons had been executed between 1885 and 1976, until the gallows were left to idle.


The executioner had to report to work by 12 noon and had to continue till the following day. He had to check the tools used for executing.

As former Prisons Commissioner C.T. Jansz recalls in the 1960s the prison looked like a funeral house on the day an execution is to be carried out.

Most of the prisoners who have not even seen the prisoner to be executed mourn the loss of a life.

After the retirement of Lewis Singno, non of his family members were interested in taking up the job. Ranjith Wijetunge was the new hangman recruited in 1979. His son succeeded him but later he was transferred to another section of the prison. Since November 27, 1975 there has been no executions at the Bogambara prison. P.M. Jayawardene was the last to be executed convicted for assassinating a graduate in Tismada. The last prisoner to go through the Welikada scaffold was Chandradasa alias Honda Papuwa from Tissamaharamaya on June 23, 1976.

Only a high court has the provisions to impose the death sentence on a convict. At the time a death sentence is announced all fans of the court room are switched off and the judge breaks the pen with which he signs the judgement.

The other proceedings of the courts are held over until the next day.Retired Prisons Commissioner Senaka Stembu said the convict had to informed the date of execution before 14 days which was a difficult task.The convict could ask for whatever food he or she prefers. The relatives could see the convict before the execution.

“Sometimes they tell us the truth which they did not confide to the judge. They want someone to listen to them. It is an emotional moment” he said.

“Prisoners react differently when they come to know they will be executed. Some crying while others laugh,” Senaka said.