ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hanging Afzal Guru

With an eye on 2014, the Congress tries to out-rightwing the BJP.

The execution of Afzal Guru on the morning of 9 February is perhaps one of the darkest spots on the much stained track record of this present government. Apart from the immorality of the death penalty itself, on which this journal has taken an unequivocal stand (EPW, “Justice or Revenge?”, 1 December 2012), the killing of Afzal Guru has been illegal and scandalous by the laws of this republic. The rejection of his mercy petition by the president was kept a secret, his family and lawyers were not informed and he was not allowed any of the rights accorded to a condemned man, to appeal the rejection of his mercy petition, to meet his family and to have a last wish. The government, in an astonishingly wicked act, sent the intimation of his impending hanging by Speed Post in a manner which ensured that it reached his family after the execution when they had already learnt of it from television news. It is not just human rights activists but even Gopal Subramaniam, the public prosecutor who pursued the case against Guru in court, has gone on record to state that the act of the government was a “serious omission in the administration of human rights” and a violation of the rule of law.

Even those who may agree with the provision of capital punishment in the “rarest of rare” cases will find such behaviour by our government to be obnoxious. Further, Afzal Guru’s case had too many loopholes and doubts which rendered the award of the death sentence open to challenge. It was unfortunate that the Supreme Court, while being cognisant of these, chose to err on the side of “collective conscience” rather than of caution. The unacceptable activism of our newly elected president, Pranab Mukherjee, in speeding up capital punishment has only compounded the folly. The death penalty is always, particularly in crimes committed in pursuit of a political aim, a deeply political decision. It was to guard against the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in such situations that the Constitution, and legal precedence, put in so many checks and balances in the award and execution of capital punishment. These have proved no match to stop the trigger-happy combination of a political president and a home minister, who is willing to even abjure basic human values in the pursuit of his political party’s electoral interests. It is time that the judiciary and human rights activists take the government to task for its breach of the rule of law and lay down the rights of the condemned prisoner so that no petty politician can play with these.

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