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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Vinod Jose, Society for Protection of Detainees

'I don't want a fellow Indian to get the death penalty'

November 07, 2006

Rediff.com received an overwhelming response for its message board on whether Mohmmad Afzal -- who has been given the death penalty by the Supreme Court for his role in the terrorist attack on Parliament -- should be granted clemency or not.

Of the over 2,300 e-mail responses, an overwhelming majority has demanded that he be hanged without any delay.

Their arguments have, obviously, found no takers at the Society for the Protection of Detainees And Prisoners Rights, an organisation fighting to save Afzal's life.

Although Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has already stated that the central government is unlikely to go against the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision, the agitators who want to save Afzal's life have not given up.

The prime reasons against Afzal's death penalty cited by the SPDPR are:

1. The Pakistani masterminds behind the attack on Parliament -- Gazi Baba, Tariq Ahmed and Masood Azhar -- are outside India and haven't even been tried.

2. Azfal was not involved in the execution of the conspiracy to attack Parliament. He did not kill or injure anyone.

3. The Supreme Court has held that Afzal must die to satisfy the 'collective conscience' of our nation. This reasoning is debatable.

4. Importantly, Afzal didn't have a lawyer of his choice and was denied a fair trial.

5. Few people know that the Supreme Court has clearly absolved Afzal of the charges of belonging to any terrorist organisation or terrorist gang under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act).

6. Afzal is a classic case of 'a spy' used by the Special Task Force of the Jammu and Kashmir police. Afzal's wife Tabassum wants the people of India to hear what Afzal suffered in the torture chamber of the STF in Srinagar.

Some experts also argue that Afzal was being treated differently compared to others like Hashim Qureshi, the Kashmiri militant who hijacked an Indian Airlines flight in 1971. Qureshi was allowed to return to India from his European hideout and is living comfortably in Jammu and Kashmir. Not only that, he is now considered as being close to the establishment.

Similarly, the rebel and violent Naga leaders who had ordered the killings of hundreds of securitymen and citizens were now being courted for peace talks. The killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had not been hanged in spite of the judgment. The Indian establishment had shown exceptional 'mercy' towards Amanullah Khan of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, why then should Afzal, a former member of the JKLF who later 'surrendered', be treated differently?

Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt argues the case with Vinod Jose, communication secretary, Society for the Protection of Detainees' and Prisoners' Rights. Jose, a former journalist from Kerala, is doing a PhD in media and conflicts in New Delhi.

Do our social activists have double standards? Why do they not have a movement to save Santosh Singh who has been given the death penalty in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case?

SPDPR, as a human rights society, is strongly against the death penalty. We believe the death penalty is an inhuman punishment. If Santosh Singh is proven guilty after a fair trial he shall be punished. But the death penalty is not a deterrent for any crime.

Many critics also feel that only when a man from the minority community is sentenced to death, activists support the cause. Is it so? A perception has been created that the death penalty or crime of the accused was not the actual issue here but only the religion of the man was under consideration. Doesn't this amount to double standards?

In a short time span of two years of its formation, SPDPR has taken up all sorts of cases including a petition that affects a good number of old age prisoners in Tihar. We didn't look what their religion was when we took up the inhuman condition in which the inmates lived in Tihar.

Let me repeat what Fyodor Dostoyevsky said in The House of the Dead 'The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering the prisons.'

We don't want our country to run prison complexes in inhuman conditions and also, hanging its citizens not giving them a fair trial.

In Afzal's case it is the complete lack of fair trial. There is a miscarriage of justice. That forced us to take up his case.

People who want the death penalty for Mohammad Afzal to be upheld are asking a simple question -- why do you want the process of the law to be subverted? When three courts have passed the judgment, why do you want to obstruct the execution of the judgment and deprive the victims from having a sense of justice?

In case of Mohmmad Afzal, very conveniently some part of the story is taken out and the prosecution has made up the case saying that he (Afzal) was giving logistical support to terrorists. And there is a huge chunk of his life story which you just don't want to listen to.

Like?

Details like Afzal is a surrendered JKLF militant in Jammu and Kashmir. He was tortured very badly by the Special Task Force. He was forced to work as a spy of the State. A STF official even took a bribe from him.

His wife Tabassum claims their wedding jewelry was taken as bribe by the STF official. Why are you completely ignoring the kind of violence he had to face in Kashmir and then in New Delhi?

Secondly, most rediff readers are talking about the rule of law. The fundamental principle of the rule of law is to conduct a fair trial. The fact is that Afzal didn't get a fair trial. He had no lawyer to fight his case. Prosecution witnesses who disposed against him were not at all examined by his lawyer.

In the POTA court he was unrepresented, later he got an inexperienced lawyer. There was so much bias and communal prejudice against the accused of this (attack on Parliament) case that all the lawyers refused to represent him.

After all, this was the first case filed after India joined the global war against terror. The media, lawyers and the general public have been getting information only from one source, the police. How can you undervalue the fact that the Supreme Court has said that Afzal Guru is not, I repeat, not linked to any terrorists organisation?

He is not a Jaish-e-Mohammad operative. Yes, he was a member of the JKLF. He is a surrendered Kashmiri militant. Here is the case of a spy of the STF.

The police did a hollow investigation under pressure because Indian democracy was being attacked. The police did a horrendous job and it was proved when Professor S A R Geelani was acquitted. Mrs Navjot, the wife of the second accused, got acquitted and the police doesn't have direct evidence against the other two accused.

The Supreme Court has also said it has taken into account only circumstantial evidence. What you know is only the police version. There is no Afzal story told by the media.

He was given a lawyer in the high court.

His wife has said that in the high court one human rights lawyer instead of defending Afzal began by asking the court not to hang Afzal but to kill him by lethal injection. At the most crucial stage he didn't get a professional lawyer to argue his case.

Look at the media who is calling him a 'Jaish-e-Mohammad' terrorist in spite of the fact that the POTA court, high court and Supreme Court have absolved him of the charge of his links with any terrorists organisation.

What matters most to the public is that three Indian courts have approved the police investigation. Your argument sounds weak that Afzal didn't get legal support because he could have taken the media's help to highlight the injustice much before the judgment.

There was no lawyer ready to take up his case. It exposes the kind of democracy we are in. It was the high voltage time in the war against terrorism. As an Indian I don't want a fellow citizen given a death sentence when he was not even provided a lawyer to defend his life.

Afzal should have been allowed to tell his story.

Your argument regarding hurting the Kashmir issue may not stand if you take the example of insurgency in Punjab. Although Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, the killers of Indira Gandhi, were hanged in 1989 they have not been hailed as 'martyrs' by the Sikh community. Even then mercy petitions were made but were put aside.

What message are you sending out to the Kashmiris? That the Indian judiciary can hang a person without providing him a lawyer? This is what Kashmiris sitting in Baramulla and Sopore must be thinking. Anger is being generated on the streets of Kashmir because of lack of trust. I think hanging Afzal would be a stigma on Indian democracy.

This is one view. Some believe that if he is given a pardon the message will be that the Indian State is not serious in its fight against terrorism.

A country like the USA has not hung any terrorists since 1992 (Editor's note: Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma that killed 168 people was executed on June 11 2002).

Even the accused of the bombing of the World Trade Centre is given a life term. The US and UK, the first world countries have exported to Third World countries a theoretical and academic framework of the war on terrorism but the first world countries are not hanging the accused guilty of terrorism.

What about the sentiments of the widows and relatives of victims of terrorism?

I have met one of the relatives. We have complete sympathy with the victims' families. They were not given money or jobs promised by the government. Nobody is even bothered about that. We are just not interested in using the victim's families as an emotional tool to deny someone clemency.

You don't think he is a terrorist?

I don't think he is a terrorist. The Supreme Court has acquitted him of any links with a terrorist organisation.

But he is related to the act of terror.

But he is not linked to any terrorist outfit. The masterminds are different, he didn't execute it. He is alleged to be a part of the third ring of conspiracy but that too was proved in court with the help of circumstantial evidences and he was not given a fair trial.

He is being hanged for providing logistical support to terrorists. A few phone calls are part of the evidence, right?

Yes, circumstantial evidence is against him but we don't know the contents of those phone calls. Only the numbers have been produced in court. The only transcript that was produced in court belonged to a talk of Geelani and his younger brother which was found to be a fabricated one.

Do you think Afzal will be hanged?

I am hoping against hope that the right wing campaign will not succeed. The founding fathers of Indian democracy will be upset if they know the other side of Afzal's story. Gandhi or Nehru will not approve of the hanging of Afzal.

So you think that Mohammad Afzal was not a part of the terrorist conspiracy to attack Parliament?

I don't think he is completely innocent but this is not the punishment he deserves. Definitely, you cannot hang somebody who is not even being represented to defend his side.


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Number of User Comments: 33




Sub: Vinod Jose is Right: Afzal must not get death penalty

Terrorism may not die with Afzal. But he may live to see the terrorism dying. He is human, a living temple of God. He is ...


Posted by Dr. S.R.S. Bedi (jurist)





Sub: Such idiots

It is almost funny to see how many idiots have access to the internet these days. I am not sure if these morons read the ...


Posted by Displaced in partition





Sub: Afzal to be hanged or spared!

Lot is being said and heard about the subject.In a democratic set up where JUDICIARY is above EXECUTIVE and once the matter has been tried ...


Posted by Sunil Kumar Saggar





Sub: Afzal should be hanged.

sir, Terrorism is not the usual crime. It should be treated separately. It is very much logical that afzal has not killed any one directly ...


Posted by sachin





Sub: fair trial please

It is true that wicked are to be punished and that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime/s said to have been have been ...


Posted by Sitarman S. Iyer




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