Questions arise over India's secret executions
By Nirmala George ,APNEW DELHI -- For 11 years the family of a convicted terrorist waited and wondered about his fate as he sat on death row. Two weeks ago they found out — from television. Mohammad Afzal Guru had been hanged in secrecy in a faraway jail in New Delhi. A government letter informing them of the imminent hanging arrived at their home in Kashmir two days after he was dead.
February 24, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
“No words can describe the pain. It was like a bolt from the sky. Our whole family is still locked in that moment. We're still struggling to reconcile with that moment,” said Yasin Guru, the dead man's cousin.
India has hanged two men in the past three months, its first executions in eight years. In a departure from past practice, both were done in secrecy. Rights activists worry the government has set a precedent that could impact the nearly 500 people on death row in India, including four men whose mercy pleas — their last hope of life — were rejected by India's president last week.
“The new practice of executing in secret without prior notification to relatives is deeply worrying,” said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, who heads the India chapter of Amnesty International.
Three months earlier, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of a 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, was hanged in equal secrecy. His execution was announced several hours later.
Many believe that the government wanted to avoid violent protests in Kashmir — where a separatist campaign has just begun to wane — that would have erupted had Guru's hanging been announced beforehand.
But that's no consolation to his family or relevant to human rights activists and lawyers who see the two secret hangings as an assault on the values of democratic India.
Guru was convicted in the 2001 attack on India's Parliament that killed 14 people when five heavily armed gunmen entered the high-security parliament complex and opened fire. Eight police personnel were killed before the five attackers were shot and killed. A gardener also died.
Guru's wife, 13-year-old son and other family members were stunned when they heard on television news that he had been executed, said Yasin Guru, the cousin. Convicts facing imminent execution are normally allowed a last meeting with their families.
“The world's biggest democracy did not even have the courtesy to inform us,” he said, adding the family was now demanding that the government hand over his body, which has been buried in Tihar jail in New Delhi, where he was executed Feb. 9.
The government says it sent a letter, dated Feb. 6, informing Guru's family of the execution. But it was mailed Feb. 8, one day before his execution and reached his family in Sopore in Kashmir on Feb. 11, two days after Guru was hanged.
“The most distressing failure of official compassion and public decency was in denying Afzal Guru's wife and teenage son the chance to meet him for the last time before his execution,” activist Harsh Mander wrote in the Hindustan Times newspaper.