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13 February 2013 National Letter to the President of India

' We Believe That You Made A Grave Error In Rejecting The Mercy Petition'

Academics, writers, filmmakers write to the President protesting the execution of Afzal Guru

To,
The Hon’ble President of India

Respected Sir,

We write to you in deep anguish, despair but in outrage as well. Afzal Guru was hanged on Saturday (9th February 2013) in secrecy. We have been told— after the hanging— that you rejected the mercy petition filed by Guru’s wife Tabassum, on 3rd February. We believe that you made a grave error in rejecting the mercy petition. If you had perused the trial records and the lengthy documentation put together over the years by lawyers and civil rights activists, or even the Supreme Court judgement which sentenced Afzal to death, you would have known, that his guilt was never established beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the Court appointed as amicus curiae (friend of the court) a lawyer in whom Afzal had expressed no faith; the fact that he went legally unrepresented from the time of his arrest till his so-called confession, the fact that the court asked him to either accept the lawyer appointed by the Court or cross examine the witness himself should surely have concerned you while considering his mercy petition.

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His personal history of being a surrendered militant, of harassment and torture at the hands of STF, as well as his statement in open court that he had indeed helped Mohammad, one of the attackers on the Parliament, find a house and obtain a car, the same car used in the attack, but at the orders of his STF handlers, should have spurred a full-scale investigation into the allegations. The citizens of this country do not know if one was ordered at all.

It is also a fact that the much-hyped investigation of the Parliament attack case and its prosecution resulted in two full acquittals and conviction of another for concealing knowledge of the crime. It was almost as if there was a need to at least ensure one death sentence so that the faith of the public / society in the efficacy of the prosecution and the judiciary and the Legislature which represented the ‘State” would not be shaken. Surely this was not a case where even the government of the day was convinced of the guilt of Afzal; but treated it like a case that was far too important for all accused to be acquitted. We must remind you sir that the Supreme Court threw out the confessions of both Afzal and Shaukat which obviously indicated that the investigation had been far from fair.

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As in life, Afzal Guru was denied his legal rights in his death. Sir, every convict whose mercy petition has been rejected by the President, is entitled yet to a last resort. The convict has the constitutional right to file a judicial review or a delay petition, in the High Court and the Supreme Court, to seek commutation of the death sentence. There exists veritable case law to support a condemned convict’s right to appeal on grounds that pendency of death penalty for years causes suffering and torturous anxiety. We only cite the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, which in 1988 held that “Undue long delay in execution of the sentence of death will entitle the condemned person to approach this Court under Article 32”.

Under the law, Afzal Guru may have lived still despite your rejection of the mercy petition, had he, his family and lawyers been informed of the rejection of the mercy petition. But perhaps fearing precisely this, the state whose head you are, Sir, chose to execute him in secrecy. The killing was not a fait accompli— a natural culmination of the course of law, as it is being made out to be by the government and the media. In fact, Afzal Guru was cynically, callously and calculatedly denied access to judicial remedy that was due to him. His family was not informed, not only because our state has become unrecognizably cruel—which it has, but also because it did not want Afzal Guru to exercise his legal rights and possibly avert the execution. Informing the wife that her mercy petition had been rejected through speed post is a joke. What the state has done is not simply kill a convict. It has committed a fraud on the people by invalidating an entire body of jurisprudence and a category of rights inhering in our Constitution.

And finally, the Indian state must explain why it displayed such urgency in executing Afzal before those others whose mercy petitions your office has earlier rejected.

Sd/

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