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Death penalty is not justice
Three people, Harban, Kashmira and Jeeta were sentenced to death for a crime in which they played similar roles. But they met different fates. Kashmira Singh’s petition to the Supreme Court was accepted and his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Harbans Singh was recommended by the court for clemency from the President. Jeeta Singh’s petition was dismissed and he was hanged.
In August 2012, 14 retired judges wrote to the President of India, pointing out that the Supreme Court had wrongly awarded the death sentence to 13 people. They called the execution of two wrongly sentenced prisoners in 1996 and 1997, “the gravest known miscarriage of justice in the history of crime and punishment in independent India”.
“I thought I should get all these (capital punishment) cases examined from a normal citizen’s point of view in terms of the crime, intensity of the crime and the social and financial status of the individuals who were convicted and awarded capital punishment. This study revealed to my surprise that almost all the cases which were pending had a social and economic bias.” APJ Abdul Kalam.
Two executions in three months in India. Devender Pal Bhullar could be next. At least 17 more at risk.
Devender Pal Singh Bhullar, convicted of killing nine people in a car bomb explosion in Delhi in 1993 had his petition for commutation rejected by the Supreme Court on 12 April.
This decision could affect the lives of at least 17 other prisoners on death row. President Mukherjee has also rejected at least nine mercy petitions involving 14 people since coming into office in July 2012.
Devender Pal Singh Bhullar sentenced to death in 2001 under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), petitioned the Supreme Court to commute his death sentence on the grounds that there was an unacceptably long delay in deciding his mercy plea. The Supreme Court rejected this chiefly on the basis of the “enormity of the crime” in effect ignoring Bhullar’s claim that he was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The TADA has been criticised for its unfair trial concerns and was repealed in 1995.
ADPAN members, Lawyers for Human Rights International said, “..the Supreme Court failed to take cognizance of the fact that Bhullar was admitted to a mental hospital for more than two years as he was mentally sick …”
Bhullar had no lawyer during his pre-detention and trial, was forced under duress to sign a confession by the police which he later retracted. Since January 2011, Bhullar has been treated for mental illness at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, New Delhi. In its recent decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that some mental impact had taken place since his arrest but the court failed to adequately address the mental impact of the ‘inordinate ‘delay in considering his clemency petition. International human rights standards prohibit the imposition of the death penalty on, and the execution of, the mentally ill.
On 15 April, the Punjab Chief Minister met India’s Prime Minister and called for commutation of Bhullar’s death sentence. The Home Minister agreed the government would examine the request.
India ended an eight-year unofficial moratorium on executions last year by hanging Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru in November 2012 and in February 2013; both were executed secretly. Transparency is considered fundamental to due process.
ADPAN opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and reiterates that the death penalty is an ineffective means of combating violent crime. It is calling for a retrial of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s death sentence.
ADPAN regrets the resumption and secrecy of executions, and urges India to join the growing number of countries that have chosen to abolish the death penalty.
ADPAN members in India:
- Banglar Mananabadhikr Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
- People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
- Lawyers for Human Rights International
- AI India
- Lawyers Collective
ADPAN calls on India to intervene and stop the executions of four Indian death row prisoners. Gnanprakasham, Simon, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran are at risk of imminent execution following a rejection of their mercy petitions by President Pranab Mukherjee.
Reports of the President’s decision have come shortly after the hanging of Afzal Guru, the second execution in India in under three months.
The defendants were initially sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court in Karnataka set up under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA), in connection with the killing of 21 policemen in a landmine blast in 1993. Trials under the TADA, which lapsed in 1995 following wide-spread criticism from national and international human rights organizations, do not uphold basic international human rights standards. The Act had been misused to arbitrarily arrest, detain and torture thousands of people. On appeal their sentences were increased to the death penalty by the Supreme Court in 2004. They filed mercy petitions in 2004.
ADPAN regrets the resumption of executions, is concerned about the political climate in which these two latest executions have taken place and the secrecy surrounding these executions.
ADPAN urges the authorities to suspend all further executions in India.