NEW DELHI – On the basis of a conviction declared by many as ‘unjust’, India hanged a Kashmiri man on Saturday for his alleged role in an attack on the country’s parliament in 2001, sparking clashes in the valley between hundreds of protesters and police.
Muhammed Afzal Guru, a one-time fruit merchant, was hanged at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail at 8am after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected a mercy appeal. He was only the second person to be executed in India in nearly a decade.
Guru’s trial was declared unfair by leaders of freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir where India’s forces have been involved in gross violations of human rights and have killed thousands of innocent Muslims. Lawyers said Guru’s conviction was based on ‘fabricated evidence’ and the New York-based Human Rights Watch described the execution as ‘inhumane’, while one of Guru’s co-accused who was later cleared said it was a travesty of justice.
But India’s main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, welcomed the execution and said the “world could see India is committed (to) the fight against terror”. With authorities fearing a backlash over the execution, a curfew was imposed in parts of Kashmir and the centre of the main city Srinagar was sealed off.
“Afzal Guru was hanged at 8am. All legal procedures were followed,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters. Guru was woken three hours before his execution, a senior police officer said. After the hanging, his body was buried inside the jail grounds. Guru was found ‘guilty’ of conspiring with and sheltering the militants who attacked the parliament in December 2001. He was also held ‘guilty’ of being a member of the Jaish-e-Muhammed, which fights against Indian rule in Kashmir.
The hanging of Afzal Guru drew bitter criticism from Muslim-majority Kashmir where police in many towns baton charged and tear-gassed protesters. Scuffles also broke out in New Delhi between Hindu activists and demonstrators who gathered at a city-centre protest site to condemn the hanging.
As the decision to hang Guru emerged, security forces imposed a curfew in rural parts of held Kashmir, with the announcement made by loudhailer as police patrolled the streets. Although there was no formal curfew order in Srinagar, police hastily erected barricades across main entry roads and in the city centre while helicopters hovered overhead. Authorities also shut down internet services and blocked social networking sites.
The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, made a televised appeal for calm. But Hilal Ahmad War, the leader of a group of freedom fighters said: “The hanging of Afzal Guru is a declaration of war by India.” Leading separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq announced a four-day protest shutdown. “This execution will definitely strengthen our resolve and add a new chapter to the freedom struggle,” he said. Guru, who had insisted he was innocent and said he wanted to see his teenage son grow up, had been “framed”, he added.
One of Guru’s co-accused, S A R Geelani, a college teacher, who was also sentenced to death but later cleared, said Guru never received a fair trial. He added Guru’s family were unaware that he had been executed but the government said they had been notified by express mail. A group of lawyers who had campaigned for Guru’s release said he had been found guilty on the basis of “fabricated evidence” and was denied proper legal representation in court.
Five militants stormed parliament in Delhi on December 13, 2001, killing eight policemen and a gardener before security forces shot them dead. India alleged the militants behind the attack were supported by Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan condemned the attack and denied any involvement saying it was India’s internal militancy springing out of its atrocities in Kashmir and other parts and warned New Delhi against blaming Islamabad for her own failures.
But tension rose sharply and brought the nuclear-armed rivals dangerously close to their fourth war. Nearly a million soldiers were mobilised on both sides of the border and fears of war only dissipated months later, in June 2002. Executions are only carried out for “the rarest of rare” cases in India and Guru’s is only the second since 2004. The sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Kasab, was executed on November 21 last year.
Amnesty International also condemned India’s execution of a Kashmiri man Muhammad Afzal Guru over a deadly 2001 attack on parliament, saying his trial fell considerably short of international fair standards.
Mohammed Afzal Guru’s execution also suggested a disturbing trend towards the resumption of death penalty use in India, said the global human rights group.
“We condemn the execution in the strongest possible terms,” said Shashikumar Velath, programmes director of Amnesty’s India wing. Guru was hanged at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail early on Saturday after Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected a mercy appeal.
New York-based Human Rights Watch earlier described Guru’s execution as an inhumane punishment.
There were serious questions about the fairness of Guru’s trial as he did not receive legal representation of his choice or a lawyer with adequate experience, said Velath.
Guru was tried by a special court set up under India’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, “a law which fell considerably short of international fair trial standards”, he added.
The Indian law was repealed in 2004 after allegations of its widespread abuse.
Amnesty said it was still unclear whether Guru was given an opportunity to seek a judicial review of the decision to reject his mercy petition - a practice that has been followed in other Indian cases.
The rights group also noted Guru’s family in Kashmir said they were not informed of his imminent execution, in violation of international standards on the use of the death penalty.
The body was also not returned to the family for last rites and burial, in violation of international standards, the group added.