1993 Mumbai Blasts: Supreme Court Stays Execution Of Death Row Convict

NEW DELHI:  The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of death row convict Tahir Merchant in the sensational 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case.

The top court sought a response from the CBI in six weeks and called for the case records from the special TADA court in Mumbai, which had awarded death sentence to Merchant, Firoz Abdul Rashid Khan and life imprisonment to gangster Abu Salem.

Merchant was convicted among others in the second stage of trial in the case as he was absconding.

As many as 257 people were killed and 718 suffered grievous injuries, with some of them suffering disabilities, were killed in the serial blasts at 12 places in Mumbai on March 12, 1993.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and M M Shantanagoudar issued notice to the CBI and directed the registry to call for the lower court’s records.

“The State of Maharashtra is directed to compile the evidence in entirety and file the compilation in convenient volumes and also serve a copy thereof to the counsel for the appellant (Merchant),” it said.While staying the execution of the death sentence awarded to Merchant, the bench listed the matter for further hearing on March 14 next year.

 Merchant had challenged the September 7 order of the special TADA court which had held that he was among the main conspirators.

“The evidence proves the anguish, agitation and frustration expressed by Tahir due to situation prevailing in Bombay during the period of riots in January 1993,” it had noted.

He worked with (absconding conspirator) Tiger Memon and had participated in several conspiracy meetings in Dubai.

Tahir made travel arrangements, financed the stay and travel of several co-accused and facilitated their training in Pakistan, the court had noted.

“The role of Tahir in conspiracy is prominent. He is one of the initiators of the conspiracy,” the court had said in its ruling on June 16.

On Tahir’s role, the court had observed that he was absconding and, by remaining in Dubai, he has deprived the investigating agency of necessary assistance to investigate the case.

Salem had escaped the noose and was handed down life imprisonment due to a provision in the Extradition Act.

Besides Salem, the court had sentenced Karimullah Khan to life imprisonment, while awarding 10 years in jail to the fifth convict, Riyaz Siddiqui.

The court had referred to the worldwide scenario and the menace of terrorism and said it was pertinent that a case relating to terrorism cannot be treated at par with other offences.

It had also imposed a fine on the five accused totalling Rs. 27.09 lakh. Firoz Khan was fined Rs. 4.75 lakh, Karimullah Khan Rs. 8.88 lakh, Tahir Merchant Rs. 4.85 lakh, Abu Salem Rs. 8.51 lakh and Riyaz Siddiqui Rs. 10,000.

The court had in June convicted six persons, including prime accused Mustafa Dossa and Salem, 24 years after the blasts had left 257 people dead. It, however, let off accused Abdul Quayyum for want of evidence.

Salem, a notorious gangster considered close to fugitive mob boss Dawood Ibrahim, escaped death sentence as the Extradition Act bars India from seeking capital punishment for an accused extradited from a country where the practice is not in force.

Before Salem’s extradition in 2004 following his arrest in 2002 in Portugal, India had assured Lisbon that he would not be awarded capital punishment if convicted.

All the seven accused faced multiple charges including criminal conspiracy, waging war against the government and murder.

The trial court, in its June 16 ruling convicting the six accused, had held that the prosecution had proved that Salem was one of the key conspirators and had delivered three AK-56 rifles and ammunition and hand grenades to actor Sanjay Dutt, who was convicted under the Arms Act in the earlier phase of the trial.

Salem, who was close to Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees Ibrahim and Dossa, took upon of himself to bring a part of arms and ammunition from Dighi to Mumbai, the court had said.

The trial of Abu Salem, Mustafa Dossa, Karimullah Khan, Firoz Abdul Rashid Khan, Riyaz Siddiqui, Tahir Merchant and Abdul Quayyum was separated from the main case as they were arrested after the first set of trial had already started.

Dossa had died of cardiac arrest at J J Hospital in Mumbai, shortly after being convicted.

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Bangladesh mutiny case: 139 soldiers to face gallows

Dhaka, Bangladesh – In what observers have dubbed Bangladesh’s “biggest-ever criminal case”, 139 mutineers of a defunct paramilitary force were sent to gallows by the country’s High Court (HC) on Monday.

Life sentences for another 146 people were also upheld by the court in the capital Dhaka. The mass convictions have been criticised by rights groups and the families, who say the trial was rife with procedural flaws and torture allegations.

At least 57 army officers and 17 civilians were killed during a mutiny in 2009 that the three-judge HC bench called “the most heinous, brutal and barbaric carnage” in Bangladesh’s history.

For the family members of those killed, the verdict seems to have brought closure.

Syed Md Ismail Parvez, brother of Major Idris Iqbal who was killed on that day, told Al Jazeera that they “are happy” and want “the immediate execution of the perpetrators who had killed his brother and others.

“This will not bring my brother back. But at least it will let us know that justice is there to hold them accountable for what they did.”

But one of the main defence lawyers, Aminul Islam, called the verdict “too harsh” and based on “flimsy or no evidence”. He said he would appeal against the HC judgement in the Supreme Court.

‘Violation of human rights’

Relatives of many of the convicted paramilitary officials have raised questions on the impartiality of the trial, while rights groups have termed the whole trial process a “violation of human rights”.

At least 47 suspects died while in police custody during the nine-year period of the trial.

Nargis Nasir, wife of one of the death row convicts – Nasir Uddin Khan, Deputy Assistant Director of the erstwhile BDR, said, “It’s anything but a justice for us.”

She said her husband was tortured and “forced to give confessional statement on the crime that he didn’t commit”.

“Since then, for the last nine years, our family is struggling to accept the fact that an innocent man was victimised for a crime of which he was no part.”

Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said the convictions were obtained after “unfair trials”.

“We interviewed many people who were badly tortured.… The courts and police should have investigated this but have failed to do so,” he said.

“We have always called for the perpetrators to be held accountable, but in many cases there was no credible evidence against the specific individual charged.

“It is not acceptable to convict individuals for the crimes committed by others, or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

A legal expert, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the trials probably were not of “international legal standards” and avoided considering “valid arguments” presented by the defence lawyers.

But Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told Al Jazeera that the HC bench delivered the verdict “after a thorough and careful investigation.

“Awarding death penalty even to an individual is not easy one. Here it was given to 139 people,” the government lawyer said. “The High Court considered everything before giving that verdict.”

Outside forces?

On February 25-26 in 2009, indignant members of the erstwhile Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), later renamed Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), revolted against senior officers.

It initially appeared to be a few disgruntled Jawans (or soldiers) taking up arms against the deputed army officers in high positions of BDR, for better financial and working conditions, but later found to be a calculated massacre.

Among those killed was the then BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed and his wife. The remains of those massacred were dumped in sewers or buried in shallow graves.

Many theories have been doing the rounds about the nature of the mutiny and the real motives of the alleged perpetrators.

The most prominent of those theories suggested the involvement of “outside forces”. The HC observations running in about thousand pages said: “There was a plot both from internal and external sides behind the BDR carnage, to uproot [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina-led government which came into power in 2008.”

There is a need for digging deeper to unearth who was supposed to be the maximum beneficiary of such carnage.

MIRZA FAKHRUL ISLAM ALAMGIR, OPPOSITION LEADER

Lt General (retired) Mainul Islam, who took over as the first Director General (DG) of the BGB right after the mutiny, however, told Al Jazeera he “had not found any evidence” of outside involvement.

According to him, the underlying reason behind the mutiny was the “prevailing discrimination between the army officials deputed in BDR and the BDR Jawans”.

The question that befuddled many during that time, as well as now, is why the intelligence unit failed to get a sense of what might happen on the morning of February 25, 2009, even though there were many suspicious activities that should have raised red flags.

The HC bench, in one of its recommendations, had called for investigating the failure of the intelligence unit in the purview of the carnage.

Critics and opposition leaders have called for an independent investigation into the incident.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said the killing of 57 top army officials in such a short span of time raises a lot of doubts.

“And it happened right after a new government came into power,” he said. He said a probe needs to be conducted to find out whether it was “simply a ploy against a new government or against the whole nation.

“There is a need for digging deeper to unearth who was supposed to be the maximum beneficiary of such carnage.”

Cheng Xing-ze: Finally Free from Death Row’s Shadow

“More than 10 people were executed during my time inside,” says Cheng Xing-ze (鄭性澤), the man wrongfully convicted of murdering a police officer and sentenced to death 11 years ago.

Cheng vividly recalls the night they came for his friend, Liu Yen-guo (劉炎國). It was April 29, 2014, the day after Liu’s birthday – we’ll never know whether the then Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) knew about the timing when she signed Liu’s death warrant.

“We had been speaking the evening prior because we had met with our lawyers together in the morning,” Cheng says. “That night, we knew he was to be executed because in the evening after 6 p.m. the cells are closed. If someone comes in after that, the inmates know the reason why.”

Cheng’s exoneration last week is a victory for justice but amounts to little more than a skirmish in the war to end capital punishment in Taiwan. The Taiwan High Prosecutors office declined to appeal a retrial decision by the Taichung High Court to clear Cheng of the murder of police officer Su Hsien-pi (蘇憲丕) during a gunfight at a Taichung karaoke bar in 2002.

The court heard new evidence of torture during Cheng’s interrogation, suggesting his confession had been made under duress. Ballistics reports that indicated that the gangster Luo Wu-hsiung (羅武雄) — who was killed by police after initially starting the shooting by firing a pistol at the ceiling — could not be ruled out as responsible for Su’s death.

The absence of action by prosecutors finally ended Cheng’s 15-year wait for freedom, and with it the fear of enduring another evening straining to hear those portentous footsteps.

“I remember those who were executed,” Cheng says, eyes wistful, now safe in the warm and well-lit office of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (Taiwan Alliance). “There is never any warning. They just come and ask you to change clothes.”

For a time, the warden would prepare offerings the morning after an execution by setting up a table and incense on the sports field. “We would pray towards the execution ground. But that stopped after the warden changed,” Cheng remembers.

The man himself, now approaching 50 years old, is a study in absence. He is easily distracted, though not in the way of diaotouzu – the people you see in the street with heads buried in smartphones. The Yuanli Township native seems just to slip in and out of the present. Moments of joy and liveliness quickly fade into jaded eyes and pockmarked cheeks – marks of the time he has served and will never get back.

The power of the press

His recollection is weak, understandable after more than a decade in prison, and at first he is unforthcoming, perhaps in part due to mistrust of aggressive media that has persistently pressed the case against Cheng on behalf of the victims.

Before his recent release on bail, Cheng wrote a letter to the son of the murdered police officer, feeling he should say something to the boy whose father he stood accused of murdering – now a man in his twenties. “Last year, May 3, I was released from the detention center as the retrial proceedings had opened. I was shocked by how aggressive the media was,” he says. “I knew they would ask me questions about the victims, so I prepared something to give them.”

The ability of the media to influence the severity of sentencing in Taiwan is an issue of ongoing concern. The Judicial Reform Foundation is focused on interrogation procedures, particularly the proclivity for police and prosectors to release information obtained through interrogation to the media prior to trial. “If the media focuses on a serious crime then it is more likely the suspect will be sentenced to death,” says Lin Hsinyi (林欣怡), Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance.

Since 2009, the alliance has helped rally lawyers, prosecutors and other non-profit groups to support Cheng’s case for the retrial he was eventually granted last year. The effort to clear Cheng’s name has been nothing short of monumental. A book about the case, 十三姨KTV殺人事件, written by Taiwan Alliance board member Chang Chuanfen (張娟芬), helped sway public opinion towards believing in Cheng’s innocence. “I used to have a roommate – a former judge prosecuted for bribery.” Cheng recalls. “I showed the judge the book and after he read it he agreed I was innocent.”

Did that make a difference to how Cheng felt? “It’s the same. I knew that I was innocent. It’s no use him saying it.”

I put it to Cheng that he seems well balanced – no hint of anger in his demeanor. “I was not balanced at all before. People have to find their ways,” he says. “I went through different states of mind … When you are young you are reckless or compulsive. As you get older, you become more level-headed. I look at things without insisting on them going one way or another.” He mentions studying Buddhism as a means of coming to terms with fate.

He tells of his confidence that there was never sufficient evidence to prove him guilty, notably that there were no witness statements suggesting he had been involved in any shooting. “I thought the most I would be charged with was gun possession. My mother was working on collecting bail money, which was NT$300,000 (US$9,940). After the death sentence judgment, I was hopelessly disappointed and surprised.”

Exoneration

His memory of the subsequent appeals is hazy, in part because he assumed the initial verdict suggested that the courts had already presumed his guilt. Only in 2011, when Cheng wrote a letter of complaint about the verdict to the Taiwan Alliance did the Lin and her team commit their limited resources, along with those of the newly established Taiwan Innocence Project, to proving his innocence. From that point on, a team of experienced pro-bono lawyers helped guide Cheng and the alliance through the process of convincing the courts to re-open his case.

Cheng’s stance on the death penalty is dispassionate. He is against it, but not for moral reasons. “There is no standard with which to guide the sentence,” he asserts, adding that his cellmate – the former judge – had told him that even senior Supreme Court justices have no coherent guidelines for how to settle on delivering a death sentence.

“You can ask me if I support the death penalty for all the murders or cases of killing. If there was one standard that brooked no other considerations, maybe, but that would be impossible.”

Cheng is now the fifth man to be exonerated after being initially sentenced to death in Taiwan. The other four are the so-called “Hsichih Trio” of Su Chien-ho (蘇建和) , Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) and Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎), who were found not guilty in 2012 of a robbery-murder after two decades fighting their case. The final victim is Hsu Tzu-chiang (徐自強) – declared innocent upon his ninth retrial in 2016 after nearly 16 years wrongfully held in custody for the kidnap and murder of a businessman. Hsu was recently awarded nearly US$1 million in compensation.

According to Lin, there are 43 prisoners who have currently been sentenced to death in Taiwan. Yet there are potentially dozens of other cases where the death penalty may be applied in the first or second instance, and the trial is still in progress, which are nigh impossible to confirm because the government does not publish official statistics. “There are two more cases we are researching and we believe may be innocent, but we don’t yet have strong evidence,” Lin says.

Despite the continual evidence of miscarriages of justice that could result in the wrongful execution of innocents, public support for the death penalty remains extraordinarily high, with roughly four out of five people in the country against its abolition, according to various surveys.

However, that position is somewhat undermined by the government’s continued failure to move towards abolishing the death penalty. “Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) government has not said anything about going towards the abolition the death penalty even though we signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2009,” Lin says. The ICCPR allows but discourages the death penalty, and since its adoption as Taiwanese law there have been fewer death sentences handed out by courts, but the government is no closer to mustering the executive, legislative or judicial will to put an end to the practice once and for all.

In response to a January 2017 appeal by a group of international human rights experts, Taiwan’s then deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said the government would restart a task force on abolishing the death penalty gradually, but Lin suggests the move is mere deflection.

“I asked [the justice ministry] what their goal is and their timetable but they had not thought about it. They just wanted to show they had replied,” Lin says. “They are not sincere. If they were, they would have steps.”

Lin maintains that if there was greater public awareness of alternatives to execution, such as a sentence of life without parole, then support for the practice would dwindle. “People will say Cheng is innocent, but for others they will say that they are guilty of murder and should be executed. We are trying to show that if you are afraid that people will come out of prison and commit a crime again, then issue a life sentence or life without parole.”

Since 2010, when Taiwan resumed capital punishment after an undeclared moratorium go about five years, there have been 33 executions, the last being Cheng Chieh (鄭捷), the 23-year-old convicted of a mass stabbing on the Taipei metro that left four people dead and two dozen injured. Death row convicts in Taiwan are most often sedated and executed by gunshot to the back of the heart. Serious drug offenses, treason and piracy are among the offenses that can carry the death penalty, but the vast majority are for homicide convictions. There has yet to be an execution carried out in 2017.

The hiatus does not mean there is likely to be a shift in Taiwan’s stance on the issue. That lack of impetus is unlikely to change given public support for the death penalty, and the forthcoming local elections in 2018. “Next year we will talk about alternatives to the death penalty. Politicians will not listen because all they think about is votes,” Lin says, adding that the alliance intends to gather the statistical evidence of public support for life without parole over the death penalty in an effort to cajole the government into action.

Lin picks out South Korea, which has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1997, as an example Taiwan can follow without significant political upheaval. Mongolia is another light in the regional darkness of state-led executions, having signed the ICCPR in 2012 and voted to abolish the death penalty in December 2015. “The Mongolian president talked to MPs, the administration, the constitutional courts – communicated with the three branches of government – in order to convince them,” Lin says. “Our government needs to show similar leadership.”

As it stands, executive leadership on the issue is notable for its absence. Back when the Taiwan Alliance was formed in 2003, the only means Lin’s two-person team had of discovering who might be on death row was trawling newspaper cuttings. By 2005, her team had managed to track down 20 or so inmates, and from that point cooperated with the Legal Aid Foundation and other non-profits to ensure that every person sentenced to death was sent a letter with an offer of legal support.

“We still don’t know the whole picture – no one informs us if there is someone going to trial,” Lin says. “We are helping around 10 cases on first or second trial at the moment. But we know we are missing some. For those who have hired their own lawyers, we have no resources to gather their names.”

For the time being, it is time to cerebrate Cheng’s release. While on bail, he has visited old friends, including those he left behind in the Taichung death row detention center. He intends to continue campaigning against the death penalty and for the freedom of others the Taiwan Alliance believes to be innocent. Now he is finally cleared, he also has the opportunity to leave Taiwan. Last year, Lin visited a temple in Kyoto, Japan, to pray for a positive outcome for Cheng’s verdict. “This morning a lawyer reminded me that we should plan to go back and a lot of other supporters said they wanted to go with us,” Lin says. “Of course we will do that, and if Cheng wants, we can go to the U.S. and Europe. He says I can arrange the trips for him…”

“I’m just the baggage,” Cheng quips, beaming broadly across the table.

 

Can HC review Prez decision to reject mercy petition of death row convict?

November 29, 2017

Can a high court review President’s decision rejecting mercy petition of a person awarded death penalty by the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice on the Centre’s petition challenging a Delhi High Court verdict commuting death sentence of Sonu Sardar, who was given capital punishment by the top court. The President had dismissed his mercy plea under Article 72 of the Constitution.Sonu Sardar was convicted of killing five members of a scrap dealer’s family in Chhattisgarh in November 2004 and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and the sentence.However, after a petition challenged the President’s dismissal of his mercy petition, a Division Bench of Delhi High Court commuted Sardar’s death sentence to Life Imprisonment last June. A Bench of Justices GS Sistani and Vinod Goel of the Delhi High Court had allowed Sardar’s petition seeking quashing of orders passed by the President and Chhattisgarh Governor rejecting his mercy plea, and commuted the death penalty to life imprisonment citing delay and improper exercise of power as grounds. “The question which would arise for consideration is as to whether a High Court would have jurisdiction at all, to entertain a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution to review the decision of the President of India under Article 72 of the Constitution in regard to a matter where the Supreme Court of India had finally confirmed the death sentence,” the Centre said in its petition to the Supreme Court.
The Centre wondered if a high court could reverse a decision taken by both the Supreme Court and the President, both of who concluded that the circumstances of the case required death sentence for the convict.

More than 50 convicts on death row in Maharashtra

November  29,  2017

With three more persons getting capital punishment in the sensational Kopardi rape and murder case, the list of convicted criminals facing the noose has swelled up in Maharashtra, with over 50 on the death row.

A special fast track court on Wednesday in Ahmednagar sentenced Jitendra alias Pappu Babulal Shinde Santosh Gorkha Bhawal and Nitin Gopinath Bhailume to death for the July 13 , 2016, rape and murder of a minor girl in Kopardi.

Some months ago, two former aides of Karachi-based underworld don Dawood Ibrahim received the death sentence in the March 12, 1993, serial blasts case.

Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Kasab and Mumbai resident Yakub Memon are the two persons from Maharashtra, who have been hanged to death in the last two decades.

Kasab was among the group of 10 Pakistanis and the only one caught alive during the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. His clemency plea was rejected by the President. He was hanged to death at the Yerawada jail in Pune on November 21, 2012.

Yakub Memon, who played a key role in the March 12, 1993, serial blasts in Mumbai, was hanged to death in the Nagpur prison on July 30, 2015.

According to prison statistics 2014, brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there are a total of 318 people, including eight women, on the death row across the country, of which 36, including three, are from Maharashtra.

However, between 2015-17, capital punishments have been given to convicts, which include the accused in the Shakti Mill rape incidents and the 7/11 serial train bombings.

In April 2014, three youths- Vijay Jadhav, Mohammad Qasim Shaikh and Salim Ansari – were sentenced to death for repeating the crime. They were involved in the rape of a photojournalist and telephone operator at the Shakti Mill.

In September 2015, a trial court in Mumbai sentenced five people to death in the 7/11 train blasts case. They are Kamal Ansari, Faisal Shaikh, Estesham Siddiqui, Naveed Khan and Asif Bashir Khan.

Among others on the death row in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra are three Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives, including a 43-year-old mother of two, who were awarded the capital punishment for their involvement in the August 25, 2003, explosions at Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazar.

These convicts are Ashrat Ansari, his aide Hanif Sayed Anees and Hanif’s wife Fehmida Sayed. They, too, have appealed in the Supreme Court.

In the Anjanabai Gavit case, which involves a series of kidnappings and murders, two sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit, too, are facing the capital punishment. The duo has been accused of kidnapping and killing a dozen children in the ’90s in Kolhapur, Pune and Nashik.

Four years ago, the Bombay High Court confirmed the death penalty of Purushottam Borate and Pradeep Kokade, who were convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 22-year-old BPO employee Jyotikumari Chaudhary in Pune in 2007.

Mymensingh court sentences 3 to death for child’s murder

November  27,2017

  The Mymensingh Additional Sessions Judge’s Court announced the verdict on Tuesday.

Death Penalty for rape in Madhya Pradesh

November 27,  2017

The Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Bhopal on Sunday, also passed a resolution that awards the death sentence to gang rape convicts.

The moves comes in the wake of rape incidents recently. “The Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan okayed the recommendation to hand down capital punishment for rape of girls aged 12 years or below,” MP Finance Minister Jayant Malaiya said.

“We are going to present a bill to this effect in the winter session of the assembly beginning tomorrow,” he said. He said the Cabinet also decided to give harsher punishment to those guilty of molesting, stalking and harassing women. Now, a fine of Rs 1 lakh will also be imposed on such offenders, he added.

Once cleared by the assembly, the bill for capital punishment for rape of girls aged 12 or below will be sent to the Centre which will send it to the President for his approval.