Afzal Guru’s Hanging – a Travesty of Justice
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.