The Afzal Guru story

What happened?

On February 9, the nation woke up to the news of Mohammed Afzal Guru’s hanging that had been carried out in secrecy. The convict of the 2001 Parliament attack case was hanged and buried in Tihar Jail premises. Apparently, Afzal Guru’s mercy petition was rejected by the President on February 3 and the Home Ministry gave its approval for execution on February 4.

What was the December 13, 2001 attack all about?

Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists carried out an attack on Indian Parliament, New Delhi, in 2001. Gunmen sneaked into the Parliament in a car with Home Ministry and Parliament labels. They drove into the then Vice President Krishna Kant’s car parked in the premises and began firing. The shootout led to the death of a dozen policemen and a gardener. All five gunmen, one wearing a suicide vest, were killed. The ministers and MPs escaped unhurt.

Who is Afzal Guru?

Afzal Guru was born in Sopore, Kashmir and studied medicine for a year, while preparing for competitive examinations. His life was nothing unusual until he joined Jihad for liberation of Kashmir. Afzal crossed the Line of Control to reach Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where he became a member of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and received terrorist training. He later became a member of terrorist outfit JeM.

Afzal played a central role in the conspiracy leading to the Parliament attack. He had provided hideout and logistics for the terrorists in New Delhi. Tracking of phone calls between him and the militants, minutes before the attack, proved his role, which he later confessed to. Afzal was arrested, along with three others, in 2001and was given death sentence in 2002.

What are the criticism surrounding his execution?

Urgency and secrecy with which the operation was carried out has come under sharp criticism. Media and activists have criticised the Centre for not informing the family members about mercy plea rejection and the execution. In fact, the communication sent through Speedpost reached the family in Kashmir two days later.

The Congress-led UPA government is also slammed for turning the crisis into a political opportunity. S.A.R. Geelani, a co-accused in the attacks, later acquitted by the Supreme Court has said that Afzal’s hanging was a politically motivated gimmick and an example of vote bank politics, referring to the upcoming election in 2014.

In another controversial decision, the government decided to bury the body inside the jail complex. There has been widespread demand to return the body to the family.

Why was there a curfew and unrest in Kashmir?

Curfew had been imposed in many parts of Kashmir since Feb. 9 for fear of violence following his hanging. The public was cut off from information sources such as mobile internet, cable television and newspapers. Despite the curfew, hundreds protested against the decision. They clashed with troops at dozens of places, which saw many injured and two killed. The issue became sensitive because most people including rights and political groups in Kashmir believe that Afzal was not given a fair trial.

How does death penalty work in India?

Capital punishment/ death penalty is carried out in rarest of rare cases and the sentence is not always followed by execution because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment.

In India the death penalty is carried out by hanging.

Once sentenced, a defendant has the right to appeal against the sentence as well as the conviction. The appeal will be heard by a higher court. If all fails, the President can be approached to grant clemency. He can decide on this only after seeking the advice of the cabinet.