Reprieve for Yakub Memon

Print edition : June 27, 2014

Yakub Memon. He was arrested in Nepal in 1994 and sent to India. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

ON June 2 the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, one of the key conspirators in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case. Memon had moved the court for commutation of his capital punishment to life imprisonment after the President had rejected his mercy petition in May this year.

A Supreme Court vacation Bench comprising Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan stayed his execution and issued a notice to the Union of India and the Maharashtra government which is holding Memon at Nagpur Central Prison. It said: “Execution proceedings will remain stayed.” The stay was granted in response to a writ petition by Yakub Memon that questioned the legal and constitutional validity of Order XL Rule 3 of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966, which allowed judges to hear and dismiss review petitions in their chambers rather than in open court where the prisoner would also be able to argue in his own defence.

A similar plea had been filed by Mohammed Arif Ashfaq, a Pakistani convict and Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who was accused in the 2000 Red Fort attack case, and he had received a stay on his execution. Yakub Memon’s case has been referred to a Constitution Bench. He has also argued that the Bench reviewing the death sentence should have at least three persons on it considering the gravity of the issue being decided. Memon’s case will be heard along with Ashfaq’s.

Both Memon and Ashfaq have asked for commutation of the death penalty on the grounds that they cannot be punished twice for the same crime. They contend that they have served 14 years in jail, which is the general equivalent of a life sentence. To carry out the death penalty now would be like punishing them twice and hence a violation of fundamental rights that forbid prosecuting or punishing a person more than once for the same offence. In March, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan upheld his death sentence.

Memon was being tried for the 1993 serial blasts case in Mumbai. Explosions in 12 places killed 257 persons and caused injuries to more than 700. Memon was arrested in Nepal in 1994 and sent to India. The court had referred to him as the “mastermind” and the “driving force” behind the blasts. At the time the same Bench had commuted the death sentence of 10 others who had been accused of parking RDX-laden vehicles at various points in the city. Speaking of their role, the court had said they were “mere subservient subordinates whose knowledge and acquaintance might have been restricted to their counterparts” whereas Memon, a chartered accountant, was the brother of Ibrahim ‘Tiger’ Memon, an absconding accused and associate of Dawood Ibrahim, also an absconding accused.

The court said, “If we say it in a metaphoric style, he [Yakub] and all the absconding accused were the archers whereas rest of the appellants were the arrows in their hands.” Yakub Memon was the only one of the conspirators who was caught. ‘Tiger’ Memon and Dawood Ibrahim are both believed to be in Pakistan. Yakub and his family had fled to Nepal fearing reprisals after the blasts, but he was arrested by the Nepalese police and sent back to India.

Yakub’s side of the story is that he was keen to work out a deal with the Indian authorities to clear his family’s name but was advised against this by a lawyer in Nepal. He was on his way back to Karachi when passport complications led to his arrest. Oddly enough, the Indian police claim that they arrested him at a New Delhi station.

The present case goes back to 1993 when criminal proceedings were initiated in Mumbai’s Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court in the Arthur Road jail. There were 123 accused and in November 2006 the TADA court convicted 100 of them. Twelve were awarded the death penalty, 20 the life term and the others varying prison terms.

Lyla Bavadam

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