Monday, August 31, 2009

Contract killer’s death penalty converted to life imprisonment

New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Monday converted the sentence of a contract killer who had killed a witness six years ago from death penalty to life imprisonment on the grounds that the case did not fall in the category of rarest of the rare. Mani Gopal had murdered the witness, an eunuch, inside the Tis Hazari court premises in 2003 when she was going to record her evidence in a murder case.

Geeta Hazi, a resident of Rajouri Garden in Delhi, had allegedly hired Gopal to eliminate Neelam as there was a dispute between them over control of areas for collection of donations and gifts on auspicious occasions. The accused had fired three shots at Neelam, killing her on the spot. The police arrested Gopal instantly and seized the weapon.

Hazi had earlier in 2002 allegedly hired another killer to eliminate Neelam. But instead of killing Neelam, the killer murdered another eunuch. However, the court had acquitted the contract killer in a separate trial for want of evidence.

A division bench comprising of Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Indermeet Kaur said: “Keeping in view the fact that the crime committed by Gopal is more than a murder of an ordinary category, we hold that the instant case falls in the category where the appropriate sentence to be imposed is of imprisonment for life with a direction that Gopal would not be considered for being granted remission till he undergoes an actual sentence of 20 years.” The bench said that by killing the witness the accused had “polluted the stream of justice”.

The court while converting the death penalty to life imprisonment ruled: “To attract the penalty of death, it has to be established that the case falls in the category of the rarest of the rare. “Witnesses being threatened, intimidated or bought over has been plaguing the criminal justice delivery system in India to such an extent that in the eyes of the public the system itself has come under trial.

“The existence of the state is dependent upon a good, effective and efficient criminal justice delivery system. If the same fails, the citizens would settle their disputes in private and the rule of law would cease to exist,” the court said.

Source: accessed on 1st September 2009)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SC for fewer death sentences

Pushes For Objectivity & Less Harsh Alternative Before Extreme Penalty

New Delhi: Naysayers to death penalty can take heart. A 30-year-old SC judgment laying down “rarest of rare case” guidelines on imposition of death penalty may soon see further tightening that could make award of capital punishment an absolute rare phenomenon.

In a recent order, the Supreme Court said judges, while awarding death penalty in mechanical consonance with the 1980 ‘Bachan Singh’ judgment, appear to have lost sight of vital ingredients—“the lesser alternative (life imprisonment) is unquestionably foreclosed” and “objective fairness standards”. These two ingredients must essentially be fulfilled by judges before awarding death penalty, but have not been complied with diligently in the recent past, said a bench of Justices S B Sinha (since retired) and M K Sharma.

Extremely concerned by the varying interpretation of the “rarest of rare case” guidelines laid down in Bachan Singh judgment, the apex court said time had come for an attempt towards deciphering a common view on this to usher in “some objectivity to the precedent on death penalty which is crumbling down under the weight of disparate interpretations”. “We may come across instances where the case may belong to the rarest of rare category, but in court’s view the ‘objective fairness standards’ necessary to be met before death penalty can be awarded have not been complied with diligently,” the bench said.

The judgment came in a case in which the apex court upheld the life sentence awarded to Mohd Farooq Abdul Gafur and others in the 1999 murder attempt on Shiv Sena leader Milind Vaidya. Though Vaidya escaped with injuries, the bullets fired by the assailants killed three. It took note of the concern of legal commentators that while the rich and powerful never got the extreme penalty, “it is invariably the marginalised and destitute who suffer extreme penalty ultimately”.

To support the need for further tightening of the death penalty system, Justice Sinha said if a person was given life imprisonment and later found to be innocent, he could be released from prison though the state would not be able to compensate the time he lost in prison. “Such a reversal is not possible where a person has been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. The execution of the sentence of death in such cases makes miscarriage of justice irrevocable. It is a finality which cannot be corrected,” he said.

The court was aware of the swinging fortunes of an accused in the three-tier justice delivery system, where a trial court verdict is reversed by the high courts and in turn the SC upturns an HC judgment. “Swinging fortunes of the accused on the issue of determination of guilt and sentence at the hands of the criminal justice system is something which is perplexing for us when we speak of fair trial,” Justice Sinha said expressing his views on death sentence.

(Source: Times of India
19th August 2009
Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN)

‘We should hang Home Minister’

The HC is currently hearing the appeal against the death sentence awarded to Leena (r) and Deepti Deosthali(l) for the 2006 murder of Dr Deepak Mahajan

Miffed that police could not record ransom calls made in Dr Mahajan murder case due to faulty machinery, Bombay High Court says the government’s lax attitude is to blame for ill-equipped force

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday came down heavily on the State Government for failing to equip the police well enough to investigate crimes.The Division Bench of Justice JN Patel and Mrudula Bhatkar was hearing the appeal against the death sentence awarded by the Pune sessions court to Leena Deosthali and her daughter Deepti, the two women accused in the Dr Deepak Mahajan murder case.

The judges were irked when the prosecution admitted that the transcripts of the ransom calls made to the deceased doctor’s family during his kidnapping were not available, as the police machinery tapping the phones was faulty and could not record the conversations.

Justice Patel noted that the police force is ill-equipped because of the lax attitude of the government. Citing the example of the unavailability of bulletproof jackets for officers during the Mumbai terror attacks, he remarked, “Because they (police) are not provided with the necessary equipment, we have to suffer events like 26/11.” He held the Home Department responsible for the flaws in police investigations and quipped, “We should hang the Minister for Home.”

Advocate Ashok Mundergi assured the court on behalf of the prosecution that satisfactory answers would be given over the lapses in police investigations pointed out by the court.


The Division Bench was also especially peeved to find that the Pune sessions court had not examined key witnesses such as the police sketch artist who first prepared a sketch of the two accused. Arguing for the prosecution, advocate Ashok Mundergi told the court that lack of time in a fast track trial did not allow the court to wait for the sketch artist, who was unavailable at the time of summons. Justice Patel responded, “A fast track trial does not mean you deliver a judgment without examining witnesses just because it has to be fast track. It is against the principles of justice. In that case, there is no point in having fast track courts.”


The Pune sessions court in 2007 found Leena and Deepti Deosthali guilty of the 2006 murder of Dr Deepak Mahajan, and awarded the mother-daughter duo the death sentence. The HC began hearing the appeal last August. Earlier this year, the case was sent back to the Pune sessions court for cross-examination of 25 of the 46 witnesses, as the accused did not have a lawyer in the sessions court. However, the Pune court upheld the sentence. The Deosthalis are currently lodged in the Byculla women’s jail and have refused a lawyer for the HC hearings as well. However, the court has appointed Rohini Salian as the amicus curiae.

19th August 2009)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Awarding Death Penalty to be made Tougher: Supreme Court

Naysayers to the death penalty can take heart. A 30-year-old Supreme Court judgment laying down "rarest of rare case" guidelines on imposition of death penalty may soon see further tightening that could make award of capital punishment an absolute rare phenomenon. In a recent order, the Supreme Court said judges, while awarding death penalty in mechanical consonance with the 1980 'Bachan Singh' judgment,appear to have lost sight of vital ingredients "the lesser alternative(life imprisonment) is unquestionably foreclosed" and "objective fairnesss tandards." These 2 ingredients must essentially be fulfiled by judges before awarding the death penalty, but have not been complied with diligently in the recent past, said a Bench of Justices S B Sinha (since retired) and M K Sharma. Concerned by the varying interpretation of the "rarest of rare case" guidelines laid down in Bachan Singh judgment, the apex court said time had come for an attempt towards deciphering a common view on this to usherin "some objectivity to the precedent on death penalty which is crumbling down under the weight of disparate interpretations". "We may come across instances where the case may belong to the rarest ofrare category, but in court's view the 'objective fairness standards'necessary to be met before death penalty can be awarded have not been complied with diligently," the Bench said. The judgment came in a case in which the apex court upheld the life sentence awarded to Mohd Farooq Abdul Gafur and others in the 1999 murder attempt on Shiv Sena leader Milind Vaidya. Though Vaidya escaped without injuries, the bullets fired by the assailants killed. It took note of the concern of legal commentators that while the rich and powerful never got the extreme penalty, "it is invariably the marginalise dand destitute who suffer extreme penalty ultimately."
Source: The Times of India, 18 August 2009

A plea for Sarabjit

At an informal meeting between a group of Indians and Pakistanis in the Swiss village of Caux, the venue of the second forum of human security in July 2009, one suggestion put forward was for the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad to abolish capital punishment.

It was argued that it would help improve relations between the two neighbours. Yes it would, if this suggestion were to be taken seriously.

Given the number of prisoners from each country languishing in the jails of the other at any point in time and the fact that a number of them have been on death row for years makes this an issue worth taking up. The charge most frequently slapped on such prisoners is of indulging in acts of terrorism or ISI/RAW-inspired espionage. Invariably the fate of one man is tacitly interwoven with that of another.

This strategy results in a tit-for-tat game with the two sides retaliating to each other’s actions in similar fashion. If there is a man linked to India on death row in Pakistan, be assured there will be one awaiting a similar fate in India. Today, Mohammad Afzal Guru stands convicted in India for storming the Lok Sabha in December 2001. In Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore, we have Sarabjit Singh arrested in 1990 and convicted of carrying out serial bomb blasts in Faisalabad, Kasur and Lahore.

Sarabjit’s case will be coming up in court shortly and there are many reasons why thousands in Pakistan, as well as India, feel that he should not be hanged.

Sarabjit was sentenced to death in 1991 by Lahore’s anti-terrorism court. He filed a petition before the Supreme Court which was dismissed in 2005 on the grounds that it was time-barred. An appeal to review the petition was again dismissed in June 2009 when the government-appointed lawyer for the convict failed to appear before the court on two consecutive occasions when the case came up for hearing.

Now a new lawyer, Awais Shaikh, has been appointed and he is committed to fighting his client’s case. A fresh application has been filed before the Supreme Court seeking review of its earlier decision to dismiss Sarabjit Singh’s petition challenging his death penalty. A mercy petition is also being made to the president for clemency. The former Indian cricket captain, Kapil Dev, has collected 100,000 signatures calling for reprieve for Sarabjit and the same is being done on this side of the border.

Sheikh’s recent visit to India and the warm welcome he received there symbolises the popular sentiment in that country in favour of Sarabjit’s reprieve, as pointed out by the foreign minister.

Thus Sarabjit’s case has now acquired the dimension of an India-Pakistan issue which can be a factor in promoting amity among the people of the two countries. True, there are people lacking compassion who would argue in support of an eye for an eye and stern punishment for those who have ‘wronged’.

But the problem with capital punishment is that it is a frightfully ‘ultimate’ action that is irrevocable. Can one really be sure if the convict has really committed the deed? Whether a man is judged innocent or guilty depends on so many factors beyond his control. The interpretation of the law, the quality of legal assistance the defendant is provided, the efficiency or otherwise of the prosecution, even the political, international and social circumstances at the time the alleged crime was committed etc. All of these go into the making of a case for or against the person in the dock.

In Sarabjit’s case it is said to be based on conjectures and surmises. His name is disputed and is not even cited in the FIR. Given factors such as these, jurists now regard the death penalty to be an anachronistic punishment that has, to use Amnesty International’s words, “no place in a modern criminal justice system”. And the main question to be asked is, has capital punishment really deterred serious crime?

One doesn’t have to repeat all the arguments advanced by the opponents of capital punishment over the decades that have been so convincing that 133 governments have seen the wisdom of abolishing the death penalty. It is time others followed suit. In Pakistan’s case it is all the more difficult to condone what can be described as a lapse on the part of the government.

Last year, on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s birthday, Prime Minister Gilani had promised the National Assembly that all prisoners on death row in Pakistan would have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. This proposal was approved by the cabinet and reaffirmed by President Zardari when he took oath of office.

Why hasn’t this promise been fulfilled? Here is an opportunity for the government to show its commitment to two causes — that of human rights and that of peace in South Asia. The fact is that Sarabjit’s case has a direct bearing on India-Pakistan relations. The Indian government has been following the case closely, and has appealed a number of times to Islamabad to commute Sarabjit’s sentence to life imprisonment or grant him clemency.

Significantly, last year Sarabjit’s family members were granted visas to enable them to visit him in prison. It was then that he met his younger daughter for the first time. She was born after he had been arrested when, according to his family, he had strayed into Pakistani territory in a state of drunken stupor. His hanging was first put off for a month in April 2008 and then indefinitely.

The political implications of such cases, that also have strong humanitarian undertones, have not escaped public notice. Last year another Indian, allegedly a spy, Kashmir Singh, was released after 35 years in Pakistani prisons. Why not Sarabjit Singh who has already spent 18 years behind bars and was allowed consular access only four years ago?

(Source: By Zubeida Mustafa
Wednesday, 19 Aug, 2009 | 08:41 AM PST |
accessed on 19th August 2009)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

He’s waiting for the hangman since 1996

Held In ’91, Convict’s Plea Gathers Dust With Prez

Chandigarh: Piara Singh (80) can neither walk nor see. His dementia, too, is getting worse by the day. And the world has forgotten about him.

In what must rank as one of India’s most callous instances of treating prisoners, Piara, a murder convict with capital punishment hanging over his head, has been languishing in Amritsar jail since 1991, mostly in solitary confinement, with neither death nor mercy rescuing him. Although his mercy petition is pending with the President since 1997, nothing by way of either relief or upholding of the sentence has come from Rashtrapati Bhavan.

To his lawyer Navkiran Singh, who meets the condemned man once in a while, Piara whispers that he can’t take it anymore. ‘‘I should have been hanged the day they said I should be killed,’’ he mumbles. It was nearly two decades ago that Piara Singh, then about 60, stepped inside Amritsar jail after being arrested in a murder case, a crime his three sons were also subsequently charged with. The death sentence was handed to him five years later in 1996, triggering his removal to solitary confinement in a 12X6 cell. He has been there since.

Residents of Amritsar’s Baserke village, Piara and his sons were found guilty of firing at a gathering to celebrate a marriage in November, 1991. It was an old enmity and by the time the violence ebbed, 17 people died. ‘‘I was moved by his plight when I accidentally stumbled upon him at Amritsar jail where I went to collect data on death row inmates in 2006,’’ said Navkiran Singh. ‘‘I decided I would fight for him. But now Piara just prays for death. It is horrifying.’’

While his initial mercy petition is gathering dust in Delhi, closer home, a PIL was filed in the Punjab and Haryana HC in August 2006, pleading that it is inhuman to keep convicts in solitary confinement. It also pleaded that Piara’s death sentence be commuted to a life term.

Gearing up for August 19, the PIL’s next date of hearing, Navkiran said, ‘‘Life term, in the eyes of the law, is interpreted to be of 20 years and in a normal murder case, after adding remission, it comes down to nine. Piara has suffered a lot. At least he should spend the last days of his life in his house.’’

But with neither the hangman nor the courts reavhing out, disease is slowly consuming the frail man. A medical report in January says, ‘‘Piara has osteoarthritis in both knee joints and acid peptic disease. As a result of prolonged incarceration, he has symptoms of mild psychotic disorder which at times results in him hallucinating.’’

No End In Sight?

November 1991: Piara arrested for murder, sent to Amritsar jail
January 1996: Gets death sentence along with son Sarabjit
Feb 2001: Piara’s other sons, Gurdev and Satnam, too get death verdict
March 1997: Files mercy petition with President of India
August 2006: PIL in Punjab & Haryana HC requesting conversion of death sentence to life imprisonment
1950-1980: Between 3,000 to 4,000 executions took place in the country
1980-1997: Two to three convicts were hanged per year
1997-2004: De facto moratorium on executions
August 2004: One execution for rape and murder
After 2004: No execution, but capital punishment is being handed down

(Source: Times of India 12 August 2009
Supriya Bhardwaj | TNN)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Death penalty for 2003 Mumbai bombers

An Indian court on Thursday sentenced to death three people, including a married couple, for planting bombs that killed 52 in the city of Mumbai in 2003. Judge M.R. Puranik, sitting at a special anti-terrorism court, ordered that Haneef Sayyed, his wife Fahmeeda Sayyed, and Ashrat Ansari "should be hanged by the neck until dead" for murder, criminal conspiracy and terrorism.All three were convicted last week, six years after bombs exploded at the Gateway of India monument and in the Zaveri Bazaar jewellery quarter.

They stood impassive in the dock as the sentences were handed down. Their lawyers have indicated that they will appeal against the death penalty, which is given rarely in India and is often delayed indefinitely or commuted by the president.

The court had heard the blasts were carried out in retaliation for Hindu atrocities against Muslims during riots in western Gujarat state in 2002 and the trio claimed to be members of the so-called "Gujarat Muslim Revenge Force".

Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam also said they were members of the banned, Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was also allegedly behind last year's militant attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Haneef Sayyed's lawyer had argued that his client should be sent to prison for life without parole. Fahmeeda Sayyed's counsel also argued against the death penalty, saying she was a poor, uneducated woman pressured into committing the crime by her husband out of Muslim duty and was taken along to "camouflage" the group's intentions.

Ansari's lawyer Sushan Kunjuramaran made no submissions but the convicted bomber told the judge he did not agree with the verdict. Prosecutor Nikam rejected the defence arguments, saying the offences fell into the "rarest of rare" category of crimes deemed appropriate for a judge to pass the death sentence.

The meticulously planned and executed bombings, carried out by planting high-explosive devices in the boots of taxis, were of "extreme brutality" and led to the "massacre of innocent people", he told the court. "It would be a mockery of justice if the death penalty is not imposed," he added.

The trial was the biggest anti-terrorism case in the city since the 1993 "Black Friday" bombings in which 257 people were killed and at least 800 others were injured.

Source :
By Phil Hazlewood (AFP)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Prosecutor pushes for death penalty in Mumbai twin blasts case

Terming it as a 'rarest of the rare' case, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam on Tuesday pushed for the death penalty for the three convicts in the 2003 twin blast case in which 54 person were killed. The quantum of sentence would be pronounced on Thursday.

Last week, the special POTA court convicted a husband-wife team of terrorist module - Mohammed Hanif Sayeed (46) and Fahmeeda (43) and their close aide Arshad Ansari (32) for the twin blasts of Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar.

On Tuesday, Nikam submitted before additional sessions judge M R Puranik that since the case falls under the 'rarest of the rare' case category, all the three convicts should be sent to gallows for committing “heinous and brutal” crime and displaying disregard for human lives.

“The convicts were exceptionally cruel and had total disregard for human lives. The bombings, meticulously planned and executed, were of extreme brutality leading to the massacre of innocent people,” Nikam argued.

He further said that it was the manner or the mode of the murder which attracts death penalty for the trio and argued that the convicts not only killed the innocent but also enjoyed the act of killing. “Thus the convicts loose every right to live,” Nikam contended.

However, defence lawyer Sudeep Pasbola representing Fahmeeda sought lesser punishment for her contending that she had not actively participated in the conspiracy of the blasts. “This cannot be considered as a rarest of the rare case for Fahmeeda as she had acted under the influence of her husband who had asked her to accompany him just to camouflage because woman and children do not cause suspicion,” Pasbola argued. “She is a woman who has to look after her two daughters. In such circumstances, Fahmeeda deserves lesser punishment,” he added.

To this, Nikam argued, “Fahimida, although a woman, participated in the crime willingly and no one had compelled her to assist her husband in terrorist acts.” He cited the judgement of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in which the convict Nalini was awarded death sentence even though she had delivered a child in the jail.

Defence lawyer Wahab Khan representing Hanif argued that he should be awarded life imprisonment instead of death contending that he had committed the crime under the influence of the members of Lashker-e-Toiba who had indoctrinated him. “Hanif did not have criminal antecedents. He had gone to Dubai to earn bread and butter but was lured into conspiracy by Pakistani nationals after he was shown CDs of atrocities on Muslims,” Wahab said.

The two blasts at Gateway of India, a prominent landmark of this metropolis and Zaveri Bazaar, the glittering gold market of Mumbai - on August 25, 2003 have left 54 dead and 244 injured. RDX-based bombs were placed in taxis to trigger the explosions.

The accused also alleged to have been involved in placing an unexploded bomb in a bus at SEEPZ in suburban Andheri in December 2, 2002 and placing bomb in bus at Ghatkopar in July 28, 2003 in which two persons were killed.

(Source: Tuesday, August 04th, 2009 AT 8:08 PM
Sakal times)