[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Oct 25 15:48:16 UTC 2006
Death Penalty Debate Revived
Even as it confronts terrorism, Indian society stands wracked by deep
divisions over whether criminals and their accomplices whose acts cause
civilian deaths should be sent to the gallows or not.
The debate is currently focused on former Kashmiri militant Mohammad
Afzal, who was sentenced to death by India's highest judicial forum, the
Supreme Court, for his alleged role as a conspirator in a terrorist attack
on India's Parliament House on Dec. 13, 2001.
Afzal was to be hanged last Friday, but his execution was indefinitely
postponed after his family filed a clemency petition. The execution threat
will hang grimly over Afzal's head until and unless India's largely
ceremonial president, APJ Abdul Kalam, commutes his sentence.
Kalam is fully empowered to do so if the Manmohan Singh government decides
that Afzal's life must be spared. But it has come under great political
pressure to execute Afzal and it not clear if it can summon up the
political will to recommend clemency.
Broadly the division of opinion on whether Afzal should hang or not
broadly runs along the Left -Right fault-lines. The leftist parties, which
support the Singh government from the outside, oppose Afzal's hanging, as
do almost all the parties in Jammu and Kashmir state, who believe that the
execution will set back the peace process and fuel militancy.
But the right-wing, ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is clamouring
for Afzal's execution, as are other conservative groups which believe that
terrorism must be exemplarily punished, even at the cost of civil and
At the social level, the dividing lines are more blurred. Going by media
surveys, as many as 78 percent of those polled say Afzal should be hanged.
Only 26 percent believe his sentence should be commuted to life
imprisonment. In the same sample, 81 percent say "terrorism" deserves the
"Public opinion is particularly prejudiced against Afzal because of the
way the police publicised his guilt," says Usha Ramanathan, an independent
law researcher. "Just a week after the parliament attack, the Delhi police
Special Cell unethically broadcast a television interview with Afzal where
he allegedly confessed to his role in the crime. This 'confession' has
little legal value, but it impressed many people who watched it live,"
"People forgot", she adds, "that the officer who organised this interview
was notorious for killing many people in fake encounters' and has since
been disgraced. The impression about Afzal's guilt has stuck."
The Indian debate on the death penalty has two components: one specific to
Afzal's guilt and appropriate punishment for it; and the other, more
generic, on the ethics of capital punishment irrespective of the crime.
The first debate is the more vigorous. Proponents of capital punishment
for Afzal hold that the Supreme Court heard his appeal and concluded that
he was guilty of murder, criminal conspiracy and waging war against the
state, and hence must be hanged.
In its judgment of August 2005, the court pronounced: "The incident, which
resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation, and the
collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital
punishment is awarded to the offender. The challenge to the unity,
integrity and sovereignty of India by these acts of terrorists and
conspirators can only be compensated by giving maximum punishment to the
person who is proved to be the conspirator."
Those baying for Afzal's blood say the President has no power to renew the
apex court's considered judgment.
Opponents of capital punishment for Afzal cite a number of arguments about
the weak evidence against him, as well as the harsh nature of the
punishment, with a total finality to it.
They also defend the President's power of pardon under India's
Constitution, which was upheld by the court. The court recently clarified
that the President is fully entitled to reappraise evidence, open an
entire case for scrutiny and reach an independent conclusion different
from the courts'.
The critics point to many loopholes in the prosecution's case. For
instance, there is a major discrepancy between the Delhi police's version
of the time and place of Afzal's arrest, and the Jammu and Kashmir police
records. The police failed to establish Afzal's critical or pivotal role
in the conspiracy. Indeed, they did not even identify the 5 attackers, who
were shot dead.
Afzal confessed to having helped the attackers' "leader" Mohammed to come
to Delhi from Srinagar and purchase a car used in the attack. But Afzal
was not shown to be the mastermind or chief conspirator.
Besides his own testimony, which the Supreme Court says cannot be relied
upon, circumstantial evidence of Afzal's involvement in conspiracy hinges
on the recovery of explosives from his house, and most crucially, on the
records of cellphone calls to the 5 attackers.
However, the explosives recovery record is not watertight. The police
could not explain why they broke into Afzal's house while he was in jail
-- when his landlord had the key.
The cellphone record traced several calls from the 5 men to a particular
Delhi number. The police allegedly impounded the instrument from Afzal
while arresting him in Srinagar. The instrument had no SIM card. So the
only identity mark was its machine number, which is unique to each
But how did the police discover the machine number? There are only two
ways: open the instrument, or dial a code and have the number displayed.
But the officer who certified the recovery said on oath that he neither
opened nor operated the instrument.
Besides, the testimonies on the date of purchase of the phone with a new
SIM card (December 4) and its first recorded operation (November 6) did
not match. The evidence is certainly not firm enough to award Afzal the
severest possible punishment.
Afzal's personal deposition describes how he was drawn into secessionist
militancy, but got disillusioned. He "surrendered" to the Kashmir police
but was constantly harassed and subjected to extortion by its Special Task
Force. The picture that emerges is that of a person who is not beyond
Equally important is the legal point that during his trial, Afzal was not
allowed to have a defence lawyer of his choice and was forced to
cross-examine witnesses himself.
''This should itself be considered a strong argument against denying Afzal
the benefit of the doubt,'' says Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court lawyer
who has taken up a number of pro bono cases, including the Narmada dam
litigation. 'Absence of an adequate defence opportunity warrants a milder
punishment than death. And yet the Supreme Court demanded that Afzal's
life should become extinct'. This is a total miscarriage of justice."
Those who oppose Afzal's execution say that the Court was driven by
excessive anti-terrorism zeal and violated its own stipulation that the
death penalty should be awarded in "the rarest of rare cases" -- when a
murder is conducted in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical and
revolting manner, or is targeted at a specific community or caste.
''It is as if retribution, rather than a balanced view of prevention and
deterrence, guided the Supreme Court,'' argues Ramanathan. ''Retributive
punishment is a dubious legal proposition. It also fails to take into
account the possibility of reform of the accused.''
Afzal's case has triggered two other debates: should clemency be granted
when the death penalty will further inflame political discontent in
Kashmir; and on the merits of the death penalty.
Most of those who demand that Afzal be hanged also oppose political
reconciliation in Kashmir and demand purely military means to tackle the
discontent there. Their opponents warn that hanging Afzal would further
alienate Kashmiri opinion from the Indian state; the government is
duty-bound to consider this while deciding on clemency.
The larger question of the morality or effectiveness of capital punishment
is again being debated. India is not among the 129 countries which have
stopped awarding the death penalty. The argument against it is reinforced
in India by the observation of a former chief justice of India (P.N.
Bhagwati), that it is exclusively given to the poor who are unable to
''This makes the death penalty especially repugnant in India", says
Bhushan. 'It strengthens the argument that it violates the sanctity of
human life, is irreversible in its effect and fails to deter heinous
Over the past 60 years only gruesome cases of murder or political
assassination, such as that of former prime minister Indira Gandhi in
1984, have attracted capital punishment.
Yet, given the present climate, India is not about to abolish the death
penalty. Clearly, a more sane and sober debate will have to take place
before conservatives yield ground to liberal opinion.
(source: Inter Press Service)
Russia Deports Asylum Seeker to Uzbekistan Despite Death Penalty Threat
An Uzbek asylum seeker, Rustam Muminov, has been forcibly sent back to
Uzbekistan from Russia, Radio Free Europe news service reported on
Yulya Pigarina, an official at the Moscow transit camp for foreigners
where Muminov was awaiting deportation, told RFE that Muminov "has already
been expelled to Uzbekistan" but said she did not know when he was
Muminov was arrested in Moscow on October 17 on charges of violating
He had moved to the Russian capital after a court in the central region of
Lipetsk last month ruled against his extradition to Uzbekistan and ordered
Muminov was first arrested in February 2006 on an Uzbek warrant.
Authorities in Tashkent claim he is a member of a banned extremist
religious group and that he is involved in last years popular uprising in
the eastern city of Andijon.
(source: Moscow News)
Amnesty International warns Uzbek ordered to be deported from Russia could
An Uzbek man could be tortured or even sentenced to death if Russia
complies with a request to deport him back to Uzbekistan, a London-based
human rights group said.
Rustam Muminov was detained last week as he sought help at the Moscow
offices of Russian rights group Civic Assistance Committee, Amnesty
International said in a statement dated Friday. The rights group said
Uzbek officials have accused Muminov of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a
banned group that reportedly advocates the establishment of a worldwide
Authorities had detained Muminov in February in a provincial Russian city
after receiving the extradition request from Uzbekistan, but then released
him, Amnesty said. However, local officials refused to renew his newly
expired residency permit and Muminov sought help from United Nations
refugee officials and Russian rights activists.
He was arrested Tuesday by Moscow police accompanied by Federal Security
Service agents who told him that he had no residency permit for Moscow,
"If Rustam Muminov is returned to Uzbekistan, he will be at high risk of
torture and ill-treatment and may even be sentenced to death after an
unfair trial," the organization said.
International rights groups and some Western governments have criticized
Uzbekistan for what they say are ongoing human rights abuses, routine
torture in jails and the secretive implementation of the death penalty.
Thousands of people considered to be prisoners of conscience are believed
to be jailed in the Central Asian nation, including Muslims who have been
accused of Islamic radicalism or belonging to terrorist groups.
(source: Associated Press)
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