By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI–Deferment of the capital punishment of Mohammed Afzal Guru, earlier scheduled for October 20, spells a ray of hope for those who protested against his punishment without a fair trial.
He has been sentenced to death for plotting the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. Afzalâ€™s family members including his wife–Tabassum, his son Ghalib and his mother Ayesha Begum, with lawyers Nandita Haksar and N.D. Panchauli met President A.P.J. Kalam October 5 to seek clemency for him.
Expressing hope that â€œjustice will be done in Afzalâ€™s case,â€ after the 20-minute meeting with Kalam, Tabassum told reporters: â€œThe President assured us that he will go through our petition seeking clemency for Afzal.â€
â€œWe told President Kalam that justice was not done to us as Kashmiris. My husband was not given a fair trial, as we had no advocate to represent him at any of the courts. He told us that he would go through our mercy petition carefully. We are confident that he would do us justice,â€ Tabassum said. â€œWe can now only pray,â€ she said
Submission of the mercy petition to the President has led to a copy of it being forwarded to the home ministry. â€œNow, the ministry will examine the merits of the petition and accordingly advise the President on what should be the next course of action and whether Afzalâ€™s petition should be considered sympathetically,â€ a senior Rashtrapati Bhawan official said. Afzalâ€™s execution has thus been put off.
Prior to giving its advice to the President, the home ministry is taking the opinion of the Delhi government and the union law ministry. It is also gathering information on Afzalâ€™s background from the Jammu and Kashmir (JK) government. During this period, the law ministry will be deliberating on whether Afzalâ€™s confessional statement was manipulated by police. Afzal now claims that he has no knowledge of what is supposed to be his confessional statement. The Supreme Court had stated, while confirming his death sentence, that Afzal was â€œevidently not awareâ€ of the contents of his confessional statement. In addition, the law ministry is to probe into whether, constitutionally, Afzalâ€™s own statement could be used as evidence against him. As per Article 20(3): â€œNo person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.â€
While the prosecution has argued that Afzalâ€™s â€œconfessional statementâ€ was not obtained under â€œduress,â€ Afzal refutes that statement. Copies of letters written by Afzal, released by the Society for Protection of Detaineeâ€™s and Prisonerâ€™s Rights, a New Delhi-based rights group, indicate that he made confessions under duress. S.A.R Geelani, a Delhi University Professor who was earlier also given a death sentence and then later acquitted in the Parliament attack case, plans to launch a movement in support of Afzal.
Speaking at a meeting organized by Society for the Protection of Detainees and Prisonersâ€™ Rights, Geelani said: â€œThe basis of the mercy petition (filed with the President) is that Afzal has not got a fair trial.â€ â€œHow can you hang someone on the basis of such [a] shoddy investigation? If Afzal is hanged to death, it would be a stigma on Indian democracy,â€ Geelani said. Afzalâ€™s lawyer, N.D. Pancholi, also present at the meeting said: â€œThe court had stated that police had fabricated evidence and forged documents against Afzal.â€ Taking note of court having accepted that â€œAfzal was not a member of any terrorist organization and there was no direct evidence to prove his involvement in the parliament attack case,â€ Pancholi said: â€œWe only want justice for someone who did not get a fair trial.â€
Meanwhile, extremist right-winged Hindu parties are strongly opposing any presidential pardon for Afzal. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has even demanded removal of J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad for advocating a presidential pardon for Afzal.
The VHP chief Rama Kant Dubey said in Jammu: â€œWe condemn Azad for siding with separatists to save this terrorist who was responsible for the attack on Parliament during 2001. He (Azad) is least worried for the bereaved families of those killed while defending it during that attack.â€ Bharatitya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani also supports the execution of Afzal. â€œThe BJP is of the view that no leniency should be shown to any terrorist indulging in anti-national activities. The BJP expressed this view after the assassination of Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also,â€ Advani said. BJP leaders Advani and Rajnath Singh called on President Kalam (October 8) saying that Afzal should not be given clemency. The BJP wants Kalam to let the government know that if clemency is shown to Afzal, the government will be regarded as being sympathetic to terror.
Till Afzalâ€™s petition, pending before the President, is disposed of, he will not be hanged. The process is likely to be completed in two to three weeks, sources said.
It may take still longer as the President has to clear at least 20 petitions before getting down to that of Afzal. With 12 of these being held over from his predecessor K.R. Narayananâ€™s tenure, Kalam may not be able to even study Afzalâ€™s petition as his term ends in less than a year.