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Abolish death penalty: Amnesty

Amnesty International on Friday renewed its demand that India abolish death penalty from the statute, reports Aloke Tikku.
Hindustan Times | By Aloke Tikku, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 03, 2008 02:46 AM IST

At a time when India is seeking clemency for Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan, human rights watchdog group Amnesty International on Friday renewed its demand that India abolish death penalty from the statute and backed its case with a study of judgements on death penalty that points to "fatal flaws" in the criminal justice system.

Amnesty International, the worldwide human rights group that is also lobbying for clemency for Sarabjit Singh who is on death row in Pakistan, said its 10-year study of judicial pronouncements had brought out inconsistencies in the investigation, trial, sentencing and appeals stages.

"Death penalty does not deter crime at all and especially when the judicial system that puts them has been shown by this extensive research to be unfair," Amnesty International India director Mukesh Sharma said at the release of the study published along with rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties: "Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India, A study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006".

India has consistently rejected the call for abolishing capital punishment but invokes capital punishment to send criminals to the gallows sparingly. The last person sent to the gallows was Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004, he was charged with rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in Kolkata.

But the lower courts do often sentence criminals to the gallows. The home ministry last month told Parliament that 125 people were sentenced to death in 2004, 164 in 2005 and 105 in 2006.

Around the same time that India voted against the resolution calling for an end to death penalty at the United Nations General Assembly in winter last, the government told Parliament that mercy petitions from 28 condemned prisoners were pending a decision before the President. And that only one prisoner had had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in the last three years.

"Public opinion often supports retention of the death penalty based on the erroneous view that it deters violent crime. It is therefore up to the nation's leadership to explain the futility of retaining executions on this basis," the rights body said.

It feared that Indian leaders lacked the "political courage and human rights leadership" necessary to abolish death penalty and asked them to explain the futility of retaining executions.

Officials, however, point that none of the committees constituted to study the criminal justice system had recommended abolition of death penalty, right from the panels headed by Justice (Retd) VS Malimath in 2003 to the one headed by NR Madhava Menon in 2007.

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