‘11-year delay on mercy petition cruel, degrading punishment'

Amnesty International has expressed concern over the imminent execution of Mahendra Nath Das of Jorhat in Assam following the rejection of his mercy petition by President Pratibha Patil recently.

In a statement, the AI said the 11-year delay in announcing the verdict of the mercy petition and the resultant prolonging of the stay on death row might amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, particularly since prison conditions in Assam were poor.

The AI pointed out that this would be the first execution in India since 2004. “AI opposes the death penalty in all cases, regardless of the nature of the crime, the [character] of the offender, or the method of execution,” the statement said.

Das was sentenced to death in August 1997 for a murder in Guwahati, Assam, in 1996. His mercy petition was rejected by Ms. Patil in May 2011. The judicial process was completed after the High Court confirmed the death sentence in February 1998 and the Supreme Court rejected the appeal in May 1999. A mercy petition was sent to the government in 2000 but was decided upon only in May 2011.

The AI said: “The Chief Justice of India has previously described the time spent by a condemned prisoner on death row as “living death.” The Supreme Court of India has also ruled that delay in executing the death sentence is a factor in deciding on the commutation of the sentence and has itself commuted death sentences in a number of cases due to inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions.

“United Nations bodies and mechanisms have repeatedly called upon Member States to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, most recently through the adoption of a third United Nations General Assembly resolution on the matter in December 2010. In a general comment on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a State Party, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated that Article 6 “refers generally to abolition of the death penalty. The Committee concludes that all measures of abolition should be considered as progress in the enjoyment of the right to life.”