India: Halt Pending Execution
(London) – The Indian government should halt the execution of Yakub Memon, set for July 30, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today.
On July 21, India’s Supreme Court rejected Memon’s final appeal, clearing the path for his execution. Memon was sentenced to death in July 2007 for his involvement in a series of bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed 257 people and injured over 700 others. Memon’s older brother, Tiger Memon, is alleged to have been the mastermind behind the bombings and remains at large.
The government should impose an official moratorium on capital punishment. An unofficial moratorium ended in 2012.
“The Indian government has hanged two people over the past three years while other countries are increasingly rejecting this inhumane practice,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The government should commute Yakub Memon’s sentence and put a moratorium on executions until the practice is fully abolished.”
A specially designated court convicted Memon under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), which was not renewed because it violated basic human rights. Higher courts subsequently rejected Memon’s appeals, even as the Supreme Court in March 2013 commuted the death sentence of 10 others accused in this case to life. President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Memon’s mercy petition in May 2014.
India ended its eight-year unofficial moratorium on executions with the hangings on November 21, 2012, of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani convicted of multiple murders in the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, and on February 9, 2013, of Mohammad Afzal Guru, convicted for the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. President Mukherjee has rejected 24 clemency pleas since he took office in July 2012, confirming the death penalty for over 30 people.
In December 2014, India was one of only 38 countries to vote against the United Nations General Assembly resolution for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution passed with 117 votes, reflecting a growing trend globally toward the abolition of capital punishment.
The Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab in 1980 held that the death penalty should be imposed only in the “rarest of rare” cases after weighing both the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of a particular case. In July 2012, 14 retired Supreme Court and High Court judges asked Mukherjee to commute the death sentences of 13 inmates that were erroneously upheld by the Supreme Court over the previous nine years. This followed the court’s admission that some of these death sentences were rendered per incuriam – ignoring a contradictory statute or binding judgment. In November 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the “rarest of rare” standard for capital punishment had not been applied uniformly over the years and the norms on the death penalty needed “a fresh look.”
In a landmark judgment in January 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of 15 people on the grounds that there was a delay in the disposal of their mercy petitions by the president. The court also ruled that those suffering from mental illness cannot be executed. The ruling noted that “undue, inordinate and unreasonable delay in execution of death sentence does certainly attribute to torture,” and was a ground for commutation of sentence.
The courts have recognized that the death penalty has been imposed disproportionately and in a discriminatory manner against disadvantaged groups in India. A. P. Shah, chairman of India’s Law Commission and a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, has said: “It is usually the poor and downtrodden who are subject to death penalty.” The Law Commission, which is currently examining the issue, stated that it appeared that “the judiciary and the executive are treating the life of convicts convicted of an offence punishable with death with different standards,” and the executive’s standards for granting commutation were not known. As part of the Law Commission consultations, several prominent politicians have called for the abolition of capital punishment.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.
“In India and elsewhere the death penalty fails to act as a deterrent, and is riddled with inconsistency and discrimination,” Ganguly said. “It’s time India removes capital punishment from its statute books.”
July 21, 2015