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PUCL Bulletin, December 2006

An Appeal against the death penalty

–- By M A Rane, Advocate & President, The Indian Radical Humanist Association and of the PUCL, Mumbai Branch, October 20, 2006

Letter to the President


As a Rationalist and Humanist I am for abolition of death penalty in all countries, and for commutation of such sentences where the law permits the same for the following reasons amongst others:

l) No State has a right to take the life of a human being, it being against the Right to Life, a basic Human Right. In the world 87 countries have abolished the death penalty and 38 countries have in practice done away with it.

2) Today the trend in criminology is to reform the convict and not to be vindictive. An eye for eye is no solution to any human problem

3) No human being however high, even the Judges of the Highest Court in a country are infallible. Evidence may be found out later for reversing the conviction and by that time it would be too late as death sentence already carried out is irreversible. Several such cases have occurred in history. The Jewish Officer Alfred Dreyfuss in the French Army who was convicted for alleged treason, was saved by the efforts of the indomitable novelist Emile Zola with his famous writings "I accuse".

4) Even if the Judges may be right in convicting the accused on the evidence presented before them, the prosecuting agencies might have been flawed in collecting the adverse evidence, due to incompetence, negligence or bias.

5) There are no statistics that in the countries where the extreme penalty is abolished, there is an increase in commission of heinous crimes, or to support that in counties where the death sentence is retained, there is no repetition of similar cruel crimes.

6) Even if the Courts are justified in awarding the death sentence on the ground that it is “the rarest of the rare cases” as per the test laid down by our Supreme Court, it is still a subjective and not an objective test.

7) Even if the Supreme Court in a country confirms such an extreme sentence, under our Constitution it is the prerogative of the Executive to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment, for existing exigencies that are not relevant before the Court. Of course the act of the Executive is subject to judicial review, order to prevent selective acts on the part of the Executive.

Now that the execution of the death sentence against Afzal Guru is postponed and nearly 20 petitions of other convicts for commutation are pending before the President and a villager from Rajasthan who was sentenced to death for killing his wife, his two children and his brother-in-law is saved from the hangman's noose, though the Supreme Court described it as "the most cruel act", there is no reason why the President should not commute the death penalty against Afzal Guru to life imprisonment. Yours faithfully. .

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014