Possible innocence, the fact that guilt was never proven beyond reasonable doubt and that many impoverished accused are poorly represented - just a few of the reasons anti-death penalty campaigners cite.
Earlier today, Yakub Memon, a chartered accountant convicted in connection with the 1993 Bombay bombings case, was hanged on his 53rd birthday despite many eminent Indians’ pleas that as he had assisted with the investigations and provided vital information, his life should be spared, especially as he had already spent two decades in jail.
Given that the current main constituent of the ruling coalition, namely the Bharatiya Janata Party, and of the previous, the Congress, are near identical in their main policy thrusts, it is hardly surprising that the last two men to be hanged in India were Muslims, as was Memon. Not necessarily by design but a majority of the prison population consists of the poor, Dalits (“untouchables”), Muslims and indigenous peoples. Their representation on death row is even higher.
The Bombay blasts killed 257 people and while Memon might have played a role in the conspiracy leading up to it, given the cooperation he extended officials, he deserved leniency, according to a former top intelligence officer, B. Raman.
“The cooperation of Yakub with the investigating agencies after he was picked up informally in Kathmandu and his role in persuading some other members of the family to come out of Pakistan and surrender constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented,” said the late Raman, in a letter written in 2007 but published just a few days ago.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and former distinguished civil servant and ambassador to several countries, as well as former Supreme Court judges Harjit Singh Bedi and Markandey Katju, former Delhi Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar and others had called for commutation. At a public hearing on the death penalty called by the Law Commission of India earlier in July, leading politicians and jurists had joined in the call to abolish capital punishment.
Another group of eminent people had addressed a detailed letter to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee pointing out among other things that the death warrant was illegal going by a previous judgement of the Supreme Court, that the long incarceration ought to have led to commutation, that Yakub Memon was not the main actor in the conspiracy, that execution would weaken the case against the role of Pakistan as no more witnesses would be available, that several others convicted in terror cases had won mercy and that the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act under which he was convicted had been repealed by parliament.
Source: Open India, N. Jayaram, July 30, 2015. N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writesWalker Jay's blog.
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