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We Haven’t Even Heard Afzal’s Story

By Nandita Haksar

03 October, 2006

Mohammad Afzal has been sentenced to death by hanging for the offence of conspiring to attack the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. The news that the date for his hanging has been fixed for October 20, 2006, has been greeted by most of the media with approval, if not celebration. But before we endorse the decision to hang Afzal we need to inform ourselves of the hard facts of the case without emotion. It is important to remember that we are not discussing whether Afzal was or was not a part of the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. He has already been found guilty of the crime and convicted. The question is on the sentence.

There are three principal reasons why hanging Mohammad Afzal would violate basic principles of natural justice and equity.

First, the charge sheet was against 12 persons: three Pakistanis (Masood Azhar, Tariq Ahmed and Gazi Baba) who were said to have master-minded the attack (none of the three were arrested or brought to trial. If Pakistan were to extradite them they would be protected from death penalty); five Pakistanis who actually attacked Parliament and were responsible for the death of nine members of our security forces; and the four people who actually stood trial.Afzal was not responsible for anyone’s death or injury. He did not mastermind the attack. The Supreme Court has noted that there is no direct evidence of his involvement.

Second, all the three courts, including the Supreme Court, have acquitted him of the charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organisation or a terrorist gang.

Third, he was denied a fair trial. The investigation was full of illegalities and the courts noted with concern that evidence was fabricated and he never had a lawyer who represented him. The Designated Judge passed an order giving Afzal the right to cross-examine witnesses but even a person with legal training without knowledge of criminal law would find it difficult to conduct such a trial. The Supreme Court has held that “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” Can the collective conscience of our people be satisfied if a fellow citizen is hanged without having a chance to defend himself? We have not even had a chance to hear Afzal’s story. Hanging Mohammad Afzal will only be a blot on our democracy .

The writer is a civil rights activist, closely associated with the rights of defendants in the Parliament attack case and is leading the public campaign for mercy in this case

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