By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR â€“Will Mohammed Afzal Guru, the main accused in the December 13, 2001 bombing of Indian Parliament, be executed or not?
A special POTA (Prevention of Terrorists Act) decided last week (September 26) that he would be hanged by the neck until dead. While issuing this order, Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Kaur said that execution is to be carried out at 0600 hrs (IST) at Tihar Jail in New Delhi on October 20. The POTA court had sentenced Afzal to death along with Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani and Shaukat Hussain Guru on December 18, 2002. Afsan Guru, the wife of Shaukat, was sentenced to five yearsâ€™ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000 for concealing knowledge of a conspiracy. The Delhi High confirmed the punishment later. While the Supreme Court confirmed Afzalâ€™s death sentence on August 4, 2005, it changed the capital punishment awarded to Shaukat Hussain Guru to ten years of rigorous imprisonment.
The apex court upheld the High Courtâ€™s acquittal of Geelani and also acquitted Afsan. Calling Afzal a â€œmenace to society,â€ in its judgment, the apex court said that his â€œlife should become extinctâ€ to satisfy the â€œcollective conscience of the society.â€
Though Afzal, allegedly of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group, had chosen not to file any appeal for clemency, legal experts suggested that he had the option to move a mercy petition before the president even a day before execution. On this, Afzalâ€™s wife Tabassum said: â€œHe would prefer to go to gallows rather than appeal against the sentence.â€ She, along with her father and son, met Afzal in the Tihar jail on August 12.
Having â€œlost faith in judiciary,â€ he â€œis unwilling to file an appeal before the president,â€ she said. Nevertheless, hoping that he would change his mind, she said: â€œMy husband is innocent and implicated deliberately in the case. We want him back with us. We are hopeful that the president will hear our appeal.â€ In her fatherâ€™s, Ghulam Mohammadâ€™s, opinion Afzal is against filing a clemency petition, as â€œit would mean that he had accepted the charges against him although he had not committed the crime.â€ Quoting Afzal, he said: â€œWhen I have no hand in the Parliament attack case, why should I file a mercy petition?â€
However, last week saw several mainstream parties and Kashmiris of different parties protesting Afzalâ€™s death sentence.
Aejaz, Afzalâ€™s brother, plans to file a mercy petition this week. Protesting against the death sentence September 29, Kashmir was witness to people coming out on the streets and clashing with security forces. Shops, business establishments, educational institutions and offices remained closed in response to a shutdown call given by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of hardline faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Different parts of the state were also rattled by demonstrations on Sunday (October 1). â€œPeaceful protest rallies and dharnas will continue till the death sentence is revoked. There is no political, moral or legal ground for hanging a person not allowed to defend himself,â€ Geelani said.
Describing capital punishment as â€œbrutalâ€ â€œcrueltyâ€ of the Indian judiciary, protesting Kashmiris said: â€œWe donâ€™t know whether he actually attacked Parliament. We are not against punishment…punish him…but not with such injustice.â€
Moved by the peopleâ€™s agitation, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and pleaded for a presidential pardon for Afzal. With the hanging scheduled on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramzan, fearing that it would inflame anti-India passions in Valley, Azad said that the execution should at least be postponed. The death sentence would further alienate Kashmiris and also hamper Indo-Pak peace process, according to Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and a Member of Parliament (MP). â€œIf the execution of Rajiv Gandhiâ€™s killers can be avoided, why canâ€™t the government apply the same yardstick for Afzal?â€ she asked. Omar Abdullah, president of National Conference (NC) and an MP also voiced fear of normalcy being affected by the execution.
Demanding a review of Afzal Guruâ€™s death sentence, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said in a statement: â€œThe execution of the verdict would make matters worse and given the seriousness of the situation, one cannot ignore the tumult caused due to the decision of hanging Guru and its negative impact on the peace process.â€ In the larger interest of the country, the President should revoke Guruâ€™s death sentence, CPI (M) said.
While Congress has tried remaining non-committal, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has attacked it for going â€œsoftâ€ on terror. Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: â€œI am neither endorsing, nor rejecting what Chief Minister (Azad) has said. It will be one of the inputs in the decision-making process. Congress has noted the proposal.â€ â€œThese are matters which are in the exclusive domain of the President and it is not for anyone else to opine or decide,â€ he said.
Questioning Azadâ€™s plea, BJP chief Rajnath Singh said: â€œLooking at the demands made by Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress, it becomes clear that Congress is not serious about fighting terrorism.â€
Meanwhile, J&K Hindu organizations have urged the president not to grant a pardon to Afzal. While Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal have held demonstrations in Jammu, in a resolution addressed to President, the VHP asked him not to be swayed by protests against the death warrant for Afzal.
Relatives of security personnel killed in the December 13-attack feel â€œcheatedâ€ by clemency being demanded for Afzal. The son of Delhi Police Head Constable Ghanshyam Patel, one of the nine killed when militants struck at the Parliament, Sunder Singh said: â€œAfter seeing support (for clemency) from human rights and political groups for a terrorist, we feel cheated.â€