(New York) –The hanging in New Delhi of Mohammad Afzal Guru makes it more urgent for India to reinstate its previous informal moratorium on executions as a step towards abolishing the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. Azfal Guru, executed on February 9, 2013, was convicted for his role in the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.
In November 2012, India ended its eight-year unofficial moratorium on executions when it hanged Ajmal Kasab, convicted for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“Questions need to be asked why the Indian government executed Afzal Guru now,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “No one argues that those who engage in serious crimes shouldn’t be punished, but the death penalty is brutal and irreversible, and there is no convincing evidence to suggest it serves as a deterrent.”
Under Indian law, the death penalty is supposed to be carried out only in the “rarest of rare” cases.
Afzal Guru was convicted for providing logistical support to those involved in the attack on the Parliament building in New Delhi on December 13, 2001, in which five heavily-armed gunmen entered the complex and opened fire indiscriminately, killing nine, including six security personnel, two parliament guards, and a gardener. All five attackers, later identified as Pakistani nationals, were killed. No member of parliament was hurt.
Four people, including Afzal Guru, were charged with conspiring in the attack and waging war. In December 2002, three people,Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru, and Afzal Guru, were sentenced to death. The fourth, Afsan Guru, was acquitted. Geelani was acquitted on appeal. In August 2005 the Supreme Court commuted Shaukat Hussain’s sentence to 10 years in prison but confirmed the death sentence of Afzal Guru. An appeal for clemency was filed for Afzal Guru but was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 3.
Many Indian activists and lawyers have claimed that Azfal Guru did not receive proper legal representation. He did not have a lawyer from the time of his arrest until he confessed in police custody. Azfal Guru claimed that he had been tortured into making his confession, which he later retracted. Several Indian activists and senior lawyers have said that he did not have effective assistance of counsel.
The Indian government has defended the conviction, saying that Azfal Guru was able to appeal his conviction and that his claims were rejected by higher courts.Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. In July 2012, 14 retired Supreme Court and High Court judges asked the president to commute the death sentences of 13 inmates they said had been erroneously upheld by the Supreme Court over the past nine years. This followed the court’s admission that some of these death sentences were rendered per incuriam (out of error or ignorance). In November 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that the “rarest of rare” standard for capital punishment had not been applied uniformly over the years and the norms on the death penalty needed “a fresh look.”
“India should end this distressing use of executions as a way to satisfy some public opinion,” said Ganguly. “It should instead join the nations that have chosen to abolish capital punishment.”