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To execute or not

Murali Krishnan, New DelhiNovember 23, 2012

The Mumbai execution was hailed by many Indians but there are others who opposed it, citing reasons that the death penalty should be abolished. Kasab's hanging has, however, reignited the death penalty debate in India.

Indian policemen stand guard outside the high court where Ajmal Kasab's case was being held, in Mumbai, India (Photo: EPA/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Ajmal Kasab, one of the ten gunmen who carried out the coordinated terror attacks in various parts of India's financial capital Mumbai in 2008, which killed 166 people, was hanged secretly on Wednesday morning at a jail in the western Indian city of Pune after Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his pleas for clemency earlier this month.

It was for the first time in eight years that the death penalty had been implemented in India. In 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a security guard, was hanged for raping and murdering a teenage girl. Auto Shankar, a serial killer, was sent to the gallows in 1995.

A flawed legal system

Fourteen mercy petitions from 18 death penalty convicts are pending before Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. Among the pending pleas is the one from the Kashmiri militant Mohammed Afzal Guru, who was convicted for attacking the Indian parliament in December 2001. India blames Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Kashmiri militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammad for these attacks.

Besides that, there are more than 300 prisoners on death row and almost 30 are expected to appeal soon to the Indian president for clemency. Many have been charged with crimes like mass killings, kidnappings and rapes of women and children.

Bikramjeet Batra of Amnesty International India told DW that India needed to abolish the death penalty.

"India needs to abolish the death penalty because the capital sentencing system in India is riddled with errors," Batra said.

Few years ago, Amnesty International issued a report, "The Death Penalty in India- A Lethal Lottery," which analyzed 700 Supreme Court judgments. The report found abuse of law and legal procedures, and arbitrariness and inconsistency in the criminal investigations, trials, sentencing and appeal methods in many capital punishment cases.

Indian social activist V. Suresh told DW that the Indian criminal code should be reviewed. "While the death penalty continues to be used in India, there remains a danger that it will be used disproportionately against ethnic minorities, the poor, or other disadvantaged groups. It has to be scrapped," Suresh said.

The way forward

Hours before Kasab was executed, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called upon nations to abolish the death penalty and welcomed the vote by a UN General Assembly's committee in favor of the call for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment. India was among the 39 countries which voted against the committee’s draft resolution.

35 countries have so far abolished the death penalty in law, or in practice.

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, who defended Kasab's hanging, said that it was the duty of the government to hang Kasab. The Minister, however, admitted that there was no consensus in the government on the issue of capital punishment.

"Instinctively, we are against the death penalty. It's a difficult decision to execute anyone," said Khurshid.

Indian people celebrate outside the high-security Yerwada Jail where Pakistan-born Kasab, the sole surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was hanged, in Pune on November 21, 2012 (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
In India, Hindu nationalist parties and groups hailed Kasab's executionImage: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Ajmal Kasab, walks at the Chatrapathi Sivaji Terminal railway station in Mumbai, India (Photo: AP Photo/Mumbai Mirror, Sebastian D'souza, File)
Pakistan initially denied that Kasab was a citizenImage: AP