Death penalty

The death penalty

Print edition : May 01, 2015
Many countries, including India, use it to tackle real or perceived threats.

EVERY time a judge in an Indian court uses the term “rarest of rare”, what follows is the pronouncement of the death penalty. It appears that the judges go by the crime, the proven charges, and then pronounce the maximum punishment. Amnesty International’s latest report, ‘Death Sentence and Executions in 2014,’ says that 64 persons were sentenced to death in 2014, down from 72 in 2013.

Though 72 persons were sentenced to death in 2013, one hanging was carried out (that of Afsal Guru, who was convicted on a terror charge, that activists say, is deeply flawed). Actually, there have only been three executions in India in the past decade. Accounting for Guru, and the lone terrorist who was captured live after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, Ajmal Kasab, there was only one more hanging during the period. From 2007 to 2014, as many as 649 persons have been sentenced to death.

Two terror convicts, who were in public memory because of the magnitude of the incidents they were said to be involved in, are on death row: the 2000 Red Fort attack accused Mohammad Arif, whose mercy petition is pending, and the 1993 Bombay serial blasts accused Yakub Memon, whose petition the President has rejected. Both have moved the Supreme Court.

With the Supreme Court laying down guidelines, there can be no more secret hangings. On January 21, 2013, a bench led by then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam laid down guidelines requiring the government to give at least 14 days’ notice before an execution “to allow the prisoner to prepare himself… (and) have a last and final meeting with his family members”.

Amnesty notes an alarming number of countries used the death penalty to tackle real or perceived threats to state security linked to terrorism, crime or internal instability in 2014. At least 607 people were executed in 22 countries and at least 2,466 men and women were sentenced to death in 55 countries in 2014 alone, the Amnesty report says.

“But, alarming as they are, the figures paint a partial picture of the true extent to which people are hanged, shot or given the lethal injection across the world. The reality is likely to be much gloomier but many governments refuse to come clean about how many people they kill each year. In countries such as Eritrea, Malaysia, North Korea and Syria, very little information about the use of the death penalty is available due to restrictive state practice or political instability,” the report added.

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