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Afzal Guru seeks swift decision

On death row for the last 3 years, Mohammed Afzal wants a speedy conclusion to his ordeal and says that LK Advani will act swiftly in deciding his plight.
IANS | By Sahil Makkar, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 08, 2008 01:28 PM IST

On death row for the last three years, India's most controversial convict, Mohammed Afzal, wants a speedy conclusion to his ordeal and says that Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate LK Advani would act swiftly in deciding his plight one way or the other while the present government is dilly-dallying his death sentence.

"I don't think the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government can ever reach a decision. The Congress party has two mouths and is playing a double game," said Afzal, convicted for the December 2001 Indian parliament attack in an exclusive interview to IANS in Tihar prison's Jail No 3.

"I really wish LK Advani becomes India's next prime minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering would ease then," said Afzal, who has been in solitary confinement in the capital's high security Tihar Jail.

Incidentally, Advani has criticised the delay in carrying out the death sentence.

"I fail to understand the delay. They have increased my security. But what needs to be done immediately is to carry out the court's orders," Advani had remarked in November 2006.

In this rare interview, Afzal's first since he was convicted by the Supreme Court in 2004 that was subsequently upheld a year later, he says that the death sentence had made him delusional. He, too, has filed a mercy petition - along with 40 others - that is pending before the president.

Cumbersome legal procedures and prolonged periods of solitary confinement, he said, were inhuman and cruel.

Psychologists call this condition the 'death row' phenomenon, in which prisoners spending years awaiting their execution go through excruciating mental torture, a fact that was recognized by the European Court of Human Rights in 1989.

"Life has become hell in the jail. I requested the government to take an immediate decision over my sentence just two months ago. I don't wish to be part of the living dead," said Afzal, whose moods swung frequently between being stoic and being defiant.

"I have also requested that till the time they (government) take a decision, they shift me to a Kashmir jail," said Afzal, who now sports a long black beard.

Dressed in a spotless white kurta-pyjama and a sports cap to hide his shaven head, Afzal, who is in his mid-30s, said he sympathised with Sarabjit Singh, an Indian lodged in Pakistan prison for nearly two decades, but said no parallel could be drawn between the two of them.

"Please don't compare me with Sarabjit. The issues are separate. My sympathies are with him, but my fight is for the Kashmir conflict. Now, I am not even seeking any clemency and have no objection to the government deciding my fate."

Last month Home Minister Shivraj Patil's controversial statement saying those demanding Afzal's hanging could not seek reprieve for Sarabjit Singh drew considerable publicity.

"If you are asking for Afzal Guru's hanging, then how can you ask for pardon for Sarabjit Singh?" Patil had asked.

Sarabjit Singh has been held guilty for bombings in Lahore and Multan in 1990 that left 14 people dead. He was to be executed April 30. However, the intervention of the Indian government led to the execution being postponed by Pakistan.

Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, was convicted of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on India's parliament that killed six security personnel and one civilian.

"I long for my eight-year-old son, Ghalib. In jail, it is not possible to meet them easily as intelligence officials unnecessarily harass my family and wife, Tabassum, when they come here," he remarked.

In jail, Afzal is reading a book called "India wins freedom" by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad that details events of the country's independence movement.

There is pressure to issue clemency to Afzal from political groups in Kashmir, who believe hanging Afzal would have negative effects on the peace process in Kashmir. Human rights activists too have demanded a reprieve, as they believe that the trial was flawed.

"I only asked for pardon to stop millions of Kashmiri people hitting the streets. If I am hanged, I would take it as a sacrifice towards the people of Kashmir," Afzal told IANS.

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