He was not given legal representation during trial, say rights activists

Even as the surrendered militant of Kashmir Mohammed Afzal Guru was hanged in the Tihar Jail here on Saturday in secrecy, human rights activists have intensified their attack on the government, claiming it had violated international standards by not informing the convict’s family before the execution nor handing over his body to them for the last rites. This is the second hanging in recent times carried out by the Union government after that of Ajmal Kasab in a Pune jail on November 21 last in the Mumbai terror attack case.

Some questioned the trial of Afzal Guru, alleging that he was not given an experienced lawyer of his choice for his defence.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “The hanging of [Afzal] Guru, following closely behind the hanging of Kasab, shows a very worrying trend by the Indian government. HRW opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.”

Another international HR organisation — Amnesty International — said [Afzal] Guru’s execution indicated a “disturbing and regressive trend towards executions shrouded in secrecy and the resumption of death penalty use in India.”

AI India’s programme director Shashikumar Velath said in a statement: “We condemn the execution in the strongest possible terms. This, very regrettably, puts India in opposition to the global trends of moving away from the death penalty.”

“Serious questions have been raised about the fairness of [Afzal] Guru’s trial. He did not receive legal representation of his choice or a lawyer with adequate experience at the trial stage. These concerns were not addressed,” Mr. Velath said.

The new practice of carrying out executions in secret was highly disturbing, he said, adding that it was not clear whether Afzal Guru was given the opportunity to seek a judicial review of the rejection of his mercy petition — a practice that had been followed in other cases. According to initial reports from Kashmir, his family was not informed of his imminent execution, in violation of international standards on the use of the death penalty. The body was also not returned to the family for last rites and burial, in violation of international standards, Mr. Velath said. India is among a minority of countries which continues to use the death penalty. In total, 140 countries — more than two-thirds of the world — are abolitionist in law or in practice. In 2011, only 21 states in the world executed, meaning that 90 per cent of the world was execution-free.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. “It opposes it as a violation of the right to life as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”, Mr. Velath said.

The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) suspected “political considerations” behind the decision to hang Afzal Guru. “The tearing hurry with which he was hanged, accompanied by the flouting of all established norms — not giving his family their legal right to meet him before taking him to the gallows — indicates that there were political considerations behind this step.”

Quoting revolutionary thinker Karl Marx, who had said “let life be dead, but death must not be allowed to live,” the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) condemned Guru’s legal killing “in a dastardly manner.”

In a statement, the RDF said the secrecy involved in the hanging pointed to the complicity of the entire present political system in persecuting political dissidents: “[Why weren’t the identities] of the five attackers killed in the parliament attack incident on December 13, 2001, revealed?”

Afzal was denied a lawyer of his choice in the lower court, where the case against him was built up. In fact, none of the 80 prosecution witnesses were cross-examined on his behalf. Afzal had asked the designated POTA court for a lawyer and had even given a list of eight lawyers, the RDF alleged.

The CPI (ML) called the hanging a “barbarous action” taken with an eye on the next Lok Sabha election.

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights termed Guru’s hanging “inhuman, brutal and arbitrary capital punishment.”

Chennai Special Correspondent writes:

Reacting to the execution of Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail, Selvaraj Murugaiyan, State Coordinator, People’s Movement Against Death Penalty, said it was another Saturday that turned out to be a sad day for human rights observers across the world. Afzal Guru was hanged the same way as Ajmal Kasab which turned out to be a dangerous precedent. The PMADP, headed by Justice V.R. Krisha Iyer, believed that the death penalty was nothing but a planned murder by the state, Mr. Murugaiyan he told The Hindu .