Terming the death sentence to Muhammad Afzal Guru as unjust and unfair, a Delhi based civil society group, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) not only opposes capital punishment in principle, but following the case of denial of justice to Afzal, the group appealed for clemency and commutation for Afzal, clemency for all death row victims, compensation for those wrongfully arrested and incarcerated.
While terming the death sentences as inhumane, brutal, arbitrary, and discriminatory, PUDR said, “Of those whose mercy petitions have come up before the President, the most frenzied demands in recent times have been for the execution of Muslim political prisoners – Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistan national sentenced and executed in the 26/11 Mumbai attack case, and now Afzal Guru. A Kashmiri Muslim sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case, the focus of rabid anti- Muslim sentiment, aggressive nationalism and the state’s ‘war on terror’, Afzal’s case has been embedded in a politics of hate from the very moment of his arrest.”
The PUDR statement also reads the case against Afzal has been based on faulty investigation, circumstantial evidence, and the suspicious role of the police. Afzal was not present at the site of the shooting, nor could he be associated with any unlawful organization. The police by allowing the media to interview Mohammad Afzal on December 20, 2003 and repeatedly telecast it for two days and then a hundred days after the attack prejudiced the case. Broadcast as the face of terror, the ‘identification’ by witnesses could hardly remain independent and free of influence.
“While noting some of the violations by the police, the High Court still gave the police the benefit of doubt. The court rejected outright the defense’s argument that Afzal’s confession permissible as evidence under POTA and the fulcrum of the prosecution’s case had been extracted under duress and torture. In its reports ‘A Trial of Errors’ and ‘Balancing Act’, PUDR had provided a detailed critique of the evidence, investigation, role of the police”, said Preeti Chauhan and Paramjeet Singh, Secretaries, PUDR.
PUDR also questions if Special court’s acquitted some people with death sentences then why not Afzal Guru. They alleged that by enhancing Afzal’s sentence to three life terms and two death sentences, he has become the scapegoat of judiciary.
“Afzal’s is therefore the test case for weighing the independence of the jury. However we believe that the pressures on the judiciary in such a social and political environment should never become an excuse to resort to capital punishment”, reads the statement.
The group also said the President Pratibha Patil commuted the death sentences of 35 convicts while President Pranab Mukherjee has commuted one death sentence. There had been a hiatus of eight years since the execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004. The hanging of Ajmal Kasab on November 2012, and the current demand to fix the date of Afzal’s execution, if acquiesced to by the pending Home Ministerial advisory to the President, is a complete regression. It’s also a test case for assessing the exercise of the President’s Constitutional prerogative to re-examine and reject the verdict of the judiciary and its stance on capital punishment.
“What hangs in the balance is the life of a Kashmiri Muslim who crossed over into Pakistan when very young, who returned three months later and then voluntarily surrendered, who was tortured by the army for refusing to become a BSF informer, who tried to carve out a new life for himself by getting a degree in Delhi University, and set up a business in Delhi, who was unfairly convicted and sentenced to death, who was denied a free and fair trial”, reads statement and further suggests, “Let him not be sacrificed to the electoral and communal compulsions of this country.”