Black warrant out to hang December 16 convicts

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRicha Banka
Jan 08, 2020 06:57 AM IST

Advocate AP Singh, who represented Thakur, Sharma and Gupta, said he will file a curative petition in the Supreme Court, and an application to stay the death warrant.

Four people convicted of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in the national capital seven years ago will hang at 7am on January 22, a court in Delhi ordered on Tuesday, issuing a black warrant in the sensational case that triggered nationwide protests and paved the way for stricter anti-rape laws in the country.

The four convicts of December 16 Delhi gang rape.(HT file photo)
The four convicts of December 16 Delhi gang rape.(HT file photo)

Convicts Akshay Kumar Thakur (33), Mukesh Kumar (33), Pawan Gupta (25) and Vinay Sharma (27) have 14 days to make use of the options before them — curative petitions in the Supreme Court, and mercy petitions before the President, additional sessions judge Satish Kumar Arora said, bringing a prolonged legal battle towards the end, over six years after the men were sentenced to death.

“Execution of the four convicts will empower the women of the country. This decision will strengthen the trust of people in the judicial system,” said Asha Devi, the victim’s mother, who flashed a victory sign after coming out of the courtroom with her husband.

Advocate AP Singh, who represented Thakur, Sharma and Gupta, said he will file a curative petition in the Supreme Court, and an application to stay the death warrant.

Authorities in Tihar prison, where the convicts are housed, said preparations had begun for the hanging in Jail No 3. “The Uttar Pradesh prisons department has already responded to us that they have a hangman available. We will get in touch with them again and seek the man’s services,” Raj Kumar, a jail spokesperson, said. Three of the convicts are in Jail No 2, and one is in Jail No 4.

Pawan Kumar, a 55-year-old hangman, has been kept on standby, confirmed Anand Kumar, the director general of Uttar Pradesh prison administration and reforms. “Pawan will be sent for the execution if he is needed,” he said.

The four convicts were among six people who brutally assaulted and gang-raped the young woman on a moving bus on December 16, 2012, before throwing her out of the vehicle. The woman died about two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore.

Ram Singh (35), a fifth accused in the case, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar jail in 2013. An underage person, who was convicted by a juvenile justice board in 2015, was released from a correctional home after serving a three-year term.

The convicts got sufficient time and opportunities to avail legal remedies, judge Arora said. “... there is nothing to delay any further in passing orders on the application seeking issuance of death warrant,” he said in his order.

The court was hearing the applications by the woman’s parents and the prosecution (the Delhi government) seeking the issuance of a death warrant.

In September 2013, a fast-track court awarded death penalty to the four convicts. It was upheld by the high court in March 2014 and by the Supreme Court in May 2017. On July 9, 2018, the top court dismissed the review pleas filed by Kumar, Gupta and Sharma, saying no grounds had been made out by them for the review. Thakur’s review plea was turned down in December 2019.

“Some people are satisfied that the death warrant has been issued... It has taken seven years. The system should be changed. A system to hang rapists within six months should be implemented,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted in the evening.

After the hearing began on Tuesday, public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan, who appeared for the state, and advocate Jitendra Jha, who represented the woman’s mother, said a death warrant could be issued even before the convicts avail all legal options.

No petition or application by the convicts is pending in any court, and the death warrant can be issued, they argued. “These are delaying tactics by the convicts. Their review petitions have been dismissed long back but they still not did not file the curative petition,” Mohan said.

Vrinda Grover, who has been appointed the amicus curiae to assist the court, said a black warrant cannot be issued till all legal remedies are exhausted.

After the arguments, the judge reserved the order at 2:53pm. Soon after, convict Kumar’s mother started crying and left the court premises.When the hearing resumed around 4pm, all four convicts were present through a video-conference. After an hour, the court passed the death warrant. Mediapersons were not allowed inside the courtroom when the judge pronounced his order.

“The issue of death warrant is a huge win for the women of our country and hopefully this historical verdict would stop and minimise such heinous crimes against women in future. We are proud that justice is obtained,” the National Commission for Women said in a statement.

Some legal experts, however, pointed to a “grey area”. In the usual course of procedure, a death warrant is not issued until a convict exhausts all available remedies. But in this case none of the convicts have filed curative petitions in the Supreme Court or mercy petitions before the President.

“This is a grey area. If curative petitions are filed and Supreme Court issues a notice, the death warrant cannot be executed unless the curative petitions are decided,” said senior advocate Rebecca John.

“The convicts can file mercy pleas before the President, which again must be decided before the death warrant can be executed,” John said.

Curative petitions are heard in-chambers and decided by judges after going through written submissions without any oral arguments by lawyers. A mercy petition is a constitutional remedy.

(with inputs from Murali Krishnan)
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