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Asia

Is India too 'noose happy'?

Activists fear that Indian authorities may execute more prisoners despite petitions for mercy currently pending before the president after the hanging of two high-profile convicts within six months.

An Indian court sentenced alleged Indian Mujahideen operative Mirza Himayat Inayat Baig to death this week for his role in what has become known as the German Bakery bomb blast.

The terror attack on the popular eatery in the western city of Pune killed 17 people and injured over 60 people in February 2010.

Baig is the only accused in the terror attack to have been arrested, tried and now convicted.

300 on death row

He joins the long list of over 300 prisoners on death row in India. Of these 29 are at the final stage of seeking presidential pardon and there are 17 whose mercy pleas have been rejected.

Members of different social organizations protest death penalty (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

There are more and more protests against capital punishment in India

The state that tops the list of death row prisoners is Bihar, with over 80 convicts awaiting execution. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh comes next with 72.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist caught alive in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was executed in November last year, while Afzal Guru, a native of Kashmir, was hanged this February for masterminding a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.

Arbitrariness and inconsistency

The death penalty has been criticized by human rights activists and from within the legal system too.

"Death penalty is the exception and life imprisonment is the rule," Nitya Ramakrishnan, a Supreme Court lawyer who has defended prisoners on death row, told DW. "The death penalty is such an extreme measure and a fundamental revulsion against society but somehow we are unable strike it off our statute books."

He claims there is arbitrariness and inconsistency in the "investigation, trial, sentencing and appeal stages in capital cases."

"India needs to declare a moratorium on executions," said rights activist Seema Misra in agreement. "It is very clear decision of the court that says that only in the rarest of rare of rare cases can you grant death penalty and rarest of rare is very subjective and it depends on judge to judge."

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, walks at the Chatrapathi Sivaji Terminal railway station in Mumbai (AP Photo/Mumbai Mirror, Sebastian D'souza, File)

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was executed last year

Recently, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution of a Sikh militant by rejecting his appeal in a ruling that could lead to more death sentences being carried out, fear activists.

"After this order it seems as if we are noose happy," Suhas Chakma of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights told DW. "We have to decide whether we want the tag of the top five executioners of the world along with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq."

Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar from northwestern Punjab, who was convicted over a New Delhi car bombing that killed nine people in 1993, had appealed for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds that he had already spent two decades on death row. But the court rejected his plea.

Rahul Mahajan, son of Bharatiya Janata Party's leader Pramod Mahajan, looks on at a rally (AP Photo/Gautam Singh)

Some say India is too 'noose happy'

Three convicts on death row for the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and four associates of the notorious outlaw Veerappan have also approached the Supreme Court to convert their death sentences on similar grounds.

Many Indian presidents have delayed decisions on mercy pleas in the past but the situation changed when Pranab Mukherjee took office in July last year. He has since disposed of the petitions of 17 condemned prisoners.

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