The rejection of Yakub Memon’s curative petition in the Supreme Court today, paving the way for his imminent execution, is a disappointing and regressive step towards the continued use of the death penalty in India.
Yakub Abdul Razak Memon was convicted for his involvement in a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai in March 1993 which killed 257 people. He was arrested in 1994. In 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to death under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Act, a law that contained provisions incompatible with international fair trial standards. The conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in March 2013. Yakub Memon’s mercy petition to the President of India was rejected in April 2014.
“More than a dozen death sentences were commuted in progressive judgments by the Supreme Court last year. Today’s judgement, in contrast, regrettably puts India in opposition to the global trend towards moving away from the death penalty,” said Divya Iyer, Research Manager at Amnesty International India.
“Those who claim that hanging Yakub Memon will bring justice for the 1993 Mumbai blasts are mistaken. The suspected masterminds of the blasts have still not been located, arrested and brought to book.
“Serious questions have also been raised regarding Yakub Memon’s execution and whether it is guided by political motivations. According to media reports, he spent time in solitary confinement, which is unconstitutional.
“Lawmakers in India often find it convenient to hold up capital punishment as a symbol of their resolve to tackle crime, and choose to ignore more difficult and effective solutions like improving investigations, prosecutions and care for victims’ families.”
There exists no reliable evidence that the threat of execution is more of a deterrent to crime than a prison sentence. This has been confirmed in multiple studies in many regions around the world, including by the United Nations. The Justice Verma Committee, set up in 2012 to review laws against sexual assault, came to the same conclusion, noting that “there is considerable evidence that the deterrent effect of death penalty on serious crimes is actually a myth.”
“Authorities need to ensure certainty in detection, arrest and conviction for crimes, rather than focus on the severity of punishment, which by itself has little deterrent effect,” said Divya Iyer.
The death penalty in India is arbitrary, discriminatory and is often used disproportionately against the poor. A recent study conducted by students from the National Law University, Delhi, with the help of India’s Law Commission, found that over three-fourths of prisoners on death row were from economically weak backgrounds.
140 countries around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Unfortunately, governments continue to use the death penalty in a misguided, often cynical, attempt to tackle crime and terrorism. Amnesty International’s latest annual report on the death penalty worldwide found that an alarming number of countries used the death penalty to tackle real or perceived threats to state security posed by terrorism, crime or internal instability in 2014.