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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

Wanted Urgently ‘Alugosuwa’ – Hangman

Colombo, 17 July (

In the vernacular, a hangman is referred to as 'thhokilidupavan' in Tamil or 'vadhaka', commonly known as ‘alugosuwa’, a word which is of Portuguese origin (algoz).

The main criteria for selection as alugosuwa were that applicants shall be five feet and four inches in height, psychologically and physically fit and they should pass a medical test.

The hurried moves to find an executioner comes following a decision by President Maithripala Sirisena to re-implement the death penalty at the very earliest, in a bid to curb the rise in the narcotic scourge and other serious crime that have continued to rock the country in recent times.

The authorities are considering extra perks for candidates willing to take up the job of executioner in order to encourage more applicants for the job, a senior official with the Prisons Department said yesterday.

The extra perks could include free housing facilities for self and dependents and an increase in wages among other concessions, Prisons Spokesman, Thushara Upuldeniya said.

The current monthly wage for the executioner is Rs 35,000 with no additional benefits and therefore it was necessary to change the present situation in order to attract recruits for the job, he said.

Some three years ago at least four persons were recruited for the job but later fled after they were shown the location of the gallows.

Since then the authorities put on hold any more plans to seek an executioner while some even suggested recruiting a foreigner.

This is not the first time the Sri Lankan prisons department has had trouble filling this job post.

Sri Lanka’s first known formal execution ? a hanging ? was carried out in 1812 by Sri Lanka’s British colonial rulers.

At the end of April, there were 1,004 prisoners sentenced to death in Sri Lanka, says Upuldeniya. Twenty-eight of those are women. The total prison population is around 16,000.

According to reports, the last known execution by hanging was held on 23rd June 1976.

Those sentenced to death are mainly housed in three prisons, with the largest number ? 625 ? held at Welikada Prison in Colombo.

There are gallows at two prisons in the country: Welikada and Bogambara Prison in Kandy. They are maintained and kept ready, and the prison system is poised to carry out an execution whenever a presidential order is received, Upuldeniya says.

In Sri Lanka, the death sentence is read out by the judge in a dramatic manner, which causes the accused and his family immense mental anguish, says a lawyer named Pieris, who has witnessed sentencings on several occasions.

“All electricity to the courtroom is cut off, to darken the room, and everyone in the courtroom has to stand as the judge reads out the verdict ? ‘hanging by the neck until dead’ ? which are ominous words, read out slowly, and every word falls in pin-drop silence,” Pieris says.

The judge then signs the verdict paper and breaks the tip of the pen so that it cannot be used again. The breaking of the pen signals the end of the life of the condemned prisoner, Pieris says. People, including seasoned lawyers, often break down in tears.

- Asian Tribune -

A Hangman's Noose
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