Nirbhaya case and poll politics

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Politics over the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case took a new twist Friday afternoon with rumours that the mother of the gang-rape and murder victim plans to contest the upcoming Delhi election against chief minister  Arvind Kejriwal on a Congress ticket. Nirbhaya’s mother, however, was quick to completely reject the speculation. Friday’s speculation comes at a time when the four men convicted in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case are using some of the final legal and judicial remedies available to them to challenge their convictions and the death sentence handed to them.The central government seems to be in a hurry to hang the four convicts who have been sentenced to death in the Nirbhaya case and is knocking on the doors of courts to expedite the executions. The Delhi High Court has ruled that all the four convicts should be hanged together, and not separately, after the trial court had stayed their execution on that ground. The government has gone in appeal to the Supreme Court against the high court’s order. The trial court’s reasoning for the stay cannot be faulted. Three of the convicts have exhausted their legal remedies, including a mercy petition to the President, to avoid death. All the four were convicted by a common sentence and so the sentence could not be executed separately. This is an accepted principle, and the court has stuck to it. The government’s hurry to hang them is wrong and unwarranted.

Last month, the government had sought additional guidelines from the Supreme Court regarding the execution of condemned prisoners, apparently to reduce the scope for them to adopt dilatory tactics. The convicts have legal rights that include review petitions, curative petitions and mercy petitions to annul the sentence against them, and it is wrong to consider their recourse to these measures as dilatory tactics. These avenues and guidelines are meant to protect the constitutional rights of prisoners till the last moment, and a society based on the rule of law cannot deny them to the convicts. The convicts can be faulted for filing their petitions and making clemency appeals one after the other only if the law disallows it. There have been cases of the government sitting on mercy petitions for years together. The high court made it clear that it was its duty to respect the provisions of the law and the Constitution, and actually blamed the authorities for not issuing black warrants after the convicts’ appeals were rejected in 2017. It has, however, set a deadline of one week for all legal remedies to be exhausted in the case.

The government is in a killing hurry probably because it wants to make an impact in Delhi where elections are to be held on Saturday with a tough line on the convicts in the Nirbhaya case. The case has much resonance in Delhi where the crime was committed in 2012. The Delhi government also has sought speeding up of the execution because it does not want to be seen as being soft on the convicts. Death sentence itself is bad, using it for political ends is worse.

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