India has carried out its third execution in under three years, hanging a former accountant convicted of involvement in a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of people in Mumbai in 1993.
Yakub Memon died at 7am on Thursday at Nagpur jail in the western state of Maharashtra, according to local media reports.
The supreme court of India had in the small hours of the morning rejected a last-minute request for a two-week postponement of the execution to allow the condemned man to “make his peace with God and settle his earthly affairs before leaving this world”.
There had been some opposition to the hanging. About 300 prominent citizens, including several retired senior judges, had urged India’s president to commute Memon’s sentence to life in prison.
Though Indian courts frequently hand down capital sentences, few are carried out and a de facto moratorium existed from 2004 until 2012.
The three executions since have been for terrorism offences.
Tensions are high in India after seven people, including three policemen, were killed in an attack by militants on a police station in the north-west of the emerging economic power earlier this week. Indian officials have blamed Islamic militants sent from Pakistan for the assault.
Security has been tightened in Mumbai in what officials call “sensitive areas” in the wake of the execution.
A spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party said earlier about the execution that it was “imperative that this conspirator is hung to death … so it sends a message to the terrorists [the] world over that India is not soft on terror”.
Memon was found to have provided logistical and financial help to those behind the bloody bombings of the stock exchange, the offices of Air India, a luxury hotel and other targets in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, in March 1993.
The blasts, which killed 257 people, are widely thought to have been the work of Muslim ganglords in Mumbai’s underworld. They followed anti-Muslim riots across India that had killed more than 1,000 people.
Memon was the only one of 11 convicted people linked to the attacks to have his death sentence upheld on appeal. He was found to have helped the bombers by providing cash and plane tickets. The sentences on the others were commuted to life imprisonment.
Amnesty International India said the execution “marks another disheartening use of the death penalty in India”.
“This morning the Indian government essentially killed a man in cold blood to show that killing is wrong,” said Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India.
In India the death sentence is reserved for cases that are deemed “the rarest of the rare”. The 350 convicted prisoners who currently face hanging include four men found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in 2012.
Amnesty International has described the application of the death penalty in India as “arbitrary, discriminatory and often used disproportionately against the poor”.
The group pointed to recent research showing that more than three-quarters of prisoners on death row were from economically weak backgrounds.
The study, by the National Law University in New Delhi and a government-appointed legal commission, also found that three-quarters of prisoners on death row could not afford to hire lawyers and so often went without legal representation.
“The death penalty is inherently cruel … The right decision was taken by the state not to execute people for a number of years and that should have been formalised,” said Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch.
Ganguly said a better deterrent against crime or acts of terror would be “reforms to the criminal justice system, proper investigation and timely prosecution that ensures that criminals are convicted and punished”.
“At the moment people are even fearful to report crime to the police, evidence vanishes, there is torture, the entire process needs an urgent overhaul,” she said.
India has a shortage of qualified and experienced hangmen with states forced to issue public appeals for volunteers with the requisite skills. Local media said a police constable who had executed Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national guilty of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai three years ago, had been chosen as the hangman for Memon.
Source: The Guardian
Image credit: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images
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