The denial of permission sparks fears that the prisoners will be executed soon

The legal team attempting to save death row convicts Gnanaprakash, Simon, Meesekara Madaiah and Bilavendra was shocked when it was prevented from meeting the prisoners at the Hindalga Central Jail in Belgaum on Saturday afternoon.

The lawyers fear that the convicts, just as in the case of Afzal Guru, will be executed secretly on Sunday without being given a chance to move the Supreme Court. The Hindu’s Belgaum correspondent reported that Bilavendra’s relatives, who also tried to meet him on Saturday, were denied permission.

The fears of the lawyers were further stoked by a heavy security cordon thrown round the jail. Efforts by the media to contact the Karnataka Home Minister, the Chief Minister, the Home Secretary and the Additional Director-General of Prisons failed. Many television crews left Bangalore for Belgaum on Saturday evening apprehending an execution on Sunday.

Gnanaprakash, Simon, Meesekara Madaiah and Bilavendra were sentenced for their role in the 1993 Palar blast conducted by forest brigand Veerappan. Their mercy petitions were rejected by the President on February 12.

B.N. Jagadeesha, Bangalore-based advocate who is leading the legal team, told The Hindu that there was an “imminent danger of [the convicts] being executed in the same secret, silent and illegal manner adopted by the government in the execution of Afzal Guru.”

He said, “If the prisoners are executed tomorrow, as we fear, it will be a travesty of justice. They have a right to go on appeal against the President’s decision and by preventing them from doing so, the prison authorities are violating the law of the land.”

“Orders of the President under Article 72 of the Constitution are subject to judicial review,” Mr. Jagadeesha said quoting from Kehar Singh vs. Union of India (1989) 1 SCC 204 para 14, and in B.P. Singhal vs. Union of India (2010) 6 SCC 331 para 76.

Rights groups gear up for legal battle

R. Ilangovan reports from Salem

A group of rights organisations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has decided to launch a last-minute legal battle in the Karnataka High Court to stay the hanging of the four Veerappan associates.

“The activists will move Karnataka High Court on Monday since we have no time left. We are facing a hostile prison administration, which refuses permission to our lawyers to meet the four accused to get their affidavits signed for initiating legal process,” said Henry Tiphagne of the Madurai-based People’s Watch, which, along with three other forums — the Karnataka-based Sigaram, the SOCO Trust (Madurai) and the Tamil Nadu Tribal People’s Welfare Association — has been fighting the cause of “the victims of the Special Task Force (STF), including the four, for long.”

The issue would also be discussed when the victims assemble at Erode on Sunday. “We are, however, optimistic since there is a legal precedence in the staying of the death penalty of the three accused in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case. We pray that there would not be any secret hanging of the four as they did with Afzal Guru,” said another activist.

J. Balaji reports from New Delhi

According to Mr. Tiphagne, not only the Jail Superintendent but also the the IG (Prisons) of Karnataka, in Bangalore, refused to accept a letter, given by advocate Prabhu on behalf of the four prisoners, requesting that the death sentence be not carried out.

The letter said said the convicts were planning to move the Supreme Court and the Karnataka High Court seeking protection of their right under Article 21 of the Constitution and review/commutation of their death sentence.

“As you are aware, Simon, Gnanaprakash, Madhiah and Bilavendra have a right to seek legal remedies and file petitions under Articles 32 and 226…” A similar issue was presently sub judice in the Supreme Court in the case of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar, Mahindra Nath Das, Murugan and others. Furthermore, in a similar case, on January 22, 2013, the Karnataka High Court had stayed the execution of prisoner Saibanna. It would therefore be improper, illegal and inhumane to execute them without giving them reasonable time to file these petitions and obtain a stay on execution.”