Afzal Guru’s Hang­ing – a Trav­esty of Jus­tice

Southasia - - Comment - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

It is said that In­dian Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee erred over the hang­ing of Afzal Guru and in re­ject­ing the con­vict’s mercy pe­ti­tion. If he had pe­rused the trial court records and the lengthy doc­u­men­ta­tion put to­gether over the years by lawyers and civil rights ac­tivists, or even the In­dian Supreme Court judg­ment which sen­tenced Afzal to death, he would have known that the ac­cused’s guilt was never es­tab­lished be­yond rea­son­able doubt. The se­cre­tive hang­ing caused a sense of deep an­guish, de­spair and out­rage in In­dia and across the world when news came that Afzal Guru re­ceived cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment on Fe­bru­ary 9 - in com­plete se­crecy. The Pres­i­dent of In­dia had re­jected the mercy pe­ti­tion filed by Guru’s wife Tabas­sum on Feb 3 and that, as in life, Guru was de­nied le­gal rights in his death too, though, ac­cord­ing to In­dian ju­di­cial laws, ev­ery con­vict whose mercy pe­ti­tion is re­jected by the pres­i­dent is en­ti­tled to a last re­sort; he or she has the con­sti­tu­tional right to file a ju­di­cial re­view or a de­lay pe­ti­tion in any In­dian high court or the coun­try’s Supreme Court to seek com­mu­ta­tion of the death sen­tence. Un­der the law, Afzal Guru may have lived still de­spite re­jec­tion of his mercy pe­ti­tion but this could only have been pos­si­ble had his fam­ily and lawyers been in­formed of the re­jec­tion of the pe­ti­tion be­fore he was taken to the gal­lows.

Afzal Guru was hanged in Ti­har Jail in New Delhi on Feb 9 (and buried in­side the Jail premises) for his role in the high pro­file at­tack on Dec 13, 2001 on the In­dian Par­lia­ment while his close fam­ily was not even in­formed in ad­vance so they could meet the con­vict be­fore he was hanged. The In­dian Supreme court wrote in its judg­ment that though there was no di­rect ev­i­dence, Guru should be hanged to sat­isfy the col­lec­tive con­science of the na­tion. What was meant by the ‘col­lec­tive con­science of the na­tion’ was not clear. Did it mean that the In­dian na­tion re­ceived ‘col­lec­tive sat­is­fac­tion’ over the hang­ing of an al­leged con­vict against whom the case ev­i­dence was not even com­plete? Feel­ings were rife that the long-term im­pli­ca­tions of Guru’s hang­ing were “far more wor­ry­ing” as they were re­lated to the new gen­er­a­tion of youth in Kash­mir who may not re­mem­ber Maq­bool Butt but would cer­tainly iden­tify with Afzal Guru. Butt was hanged in 1984 for the mur­der of In­dian diplo­mat Ravin­dra Mha­tre in the UK.

Afzal Guru was ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the at­tack on the In­dian Par­lia­ment in De­cem­ber 2001, in which 14 peo­ple lost their lives. All five at­tack­ers were killed on the spot and In­dia ac­cused the mil­i­tant group Jaish-e-Mo­hammed for the at­tack. In a TV in­ter­view, Afzal Guru had ac­knowl­edged his role in the 2001 in­ci­dent but had said he was not part of the team that had ac­tu­ally at­tacked the Par­lia­ment House. Since he had not killed any­one, the ques­tion arises as to why he was hanged? The se­cre­tive man­ner in which the hang­ing was car­ried out is also a clear trav­esty of jus­tice. It speaks vol­umes of the out­ra­geous breach of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights and the tram­mel­ing of ethics and moral­ity. The fi­nal judg­ment of the In­dian Supreme Court does not quite re­flect the man­ner in which the world’s largest democ­racy is ex­pected to be­have.

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