Hundreds of politicians, jurists and activists appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday to spare the life of 1993 Mumbai blasts plotter Yakub Memon, adding fuel to a raging debate over the issue on a day actor Salman Khan sought mercy for the death row convict.
The fresh petition came ahead of the Supreme Court hearing a last-ditch appeal on Monday from Memon who was sentenced to death for the dozen explosions that ripped through India’s financial capital, killing nearly 260 people at separate landmarks and leaving more than 700 injured.
“Blood-letting and human sacrifice will not make this country a safer place; it will, however, degrade us all,” said the signatories including BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha, Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyar, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, Supreme Court lawyer Ram Jethmalani as well as film personalities Naseeruddin Shah and Mahesh Bhatt. “Grant of mercy in this case will send out a message that while this country will not tolerate acts of terrorism, as a nation we are committed to equal application of the power of mercy and values of forgiveness, and justice.”
The trained chartered accountant who has spent over two decades in jail is due to be hanged at Nagpur central jail on July 30, the day he turns 53.
“The CPI(M) is in principle against capital punishment, whether it is Yaukb Memon or others. Memon is guilty and he should be punished. But we are for the abolition of capital punishment,” Yechury told HT.
The nearly 300 petitioners joined a growing chorus of voices opposing the death sentence, as Bollywood superstar Salman Khan posted a series of tweets to argue against Memon’s hanging but later apologised after his comments sparked strong reactions from political parties, social media users and his own father.
“I had tweeted that Tiger Memon should hang for his crimes and I stand by it,” he said, referring to the convict’s brother. “What i also said is that Yakub Memon should not hang for him. I have not said or implied that Yakub Memon is innocent.”
Tiger Memon, along with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his brother, Anees Ibrahim, are considered to be the key conspirators behind the serial blasts.
Indian investigators have accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI of aiding the plotters, an allegation that Islamabad has denied. Both Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim are believed to be holed up in the neighbouring country.
The clarification from Salman Khan who was himself convicted in a deadly hit-and-run accident this year came after dozens of angry protesters, many of them shouting slogans and waving BJP flags, gathered outside his Mumbai home and demanded an apology.
“My dad called & said I should retract my tweets as they have the potential to create misunderstanding. I here by retract them,” the actor tweeted. “I would like to unconditionally apologise for any misunderstanding I may have created unintentionally.”
Protests erupted against Khan in several parts of Maharashtra as state revenue minister Eknath Khadse said those sympathising with Memon should also be punished, while special prosecutor in the blasts case, Ujjwal Nikam, called the actor’s tweets an attempt to “undermine the image of the Indian Judiciary.”
“I would like to ask him whether he knew about the criminal conspirators, or did he term Yakub Memon as innocent from his personal knowledge,” the lawyer said.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said the court’s decision had come and “we must all follow the course of the law”, but questioned the BJP government for supporting the hanging of Yakub Memon while “asking agencies to proceed slowly in bomb blast cases like Malegaon, Modasa, Samjhauta express, Ajmer Dargah Sharif involving people from the Sangh”.
However, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju called Memon’s death sentence a “gross travesty of justice” as the evidence based on which he had been found guilty was “very weak”.
“This evidence is retracted confession of the co-accused and alleged recoveries,” he said and added that “everyone knows how confessions are obtained by the police in our country by torture.”
Memon’s wife, Rahin, also pleaded for her husband’s death penalty to be reduced to life imprisonment, saying she believed he was innocent and had willingly surrendered to authorities.
“I have full faith in the judiciary. I ask for pardon from the government of India for Yakub so his death sentence can be commuted,” she told a news channel.
Read:Salman Khan retracts tweets on Yakub Memon, apologises
Yakub Memon moves Supreme Court again for stay on execution order