Sirisena's announcement came after he visited the Philippines in January and praised President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown as "an example to the world." Thousands of suspects have been killed in the crackdown that he launched after taking office in 2016, and rights groups have denounced the killings as extrajudicial executions.
The government said Sirisena believes reinstating executions is justified because he says other countries execute prisoners for drug crimes. It said he announced his decision Wednesday in a southern part of the island nation where large amounts of illegal drugs have been discovered.
Sri Lanka has 1,299 prisoners facing death sentences and 48 of them were convicted of drug offenses. Eighteen of those condemned drug convicts are on death row, while the remaining 30 still have appeals of their sentences to be heard.
Sri Lankan police in recent months have intensified their efforts to crack down on drugs, seizing 90 kilograms (198 pounds) of heroin from a luxury apartment in the capital, Colombo. Two Americans, two Sri Lankans and an Afghan were arrested.
Rising crime — including gang-related killings and narcotics and sex crimes — have generated public calls to restart executions. Giada Girelli, a human rights analyst with the Harm Reduction International drug policy research group, said there is no evidence that carrying out executions in Sri Lanka would serve "as an effective deterrent to drug use or trafficking."
"It will buck the global trend away from use of the death penalty and only serve to harm the health and human rights of Sri Lanka's citizens."