India Supreme Court commutes 15 death sentences due to delays

Updated 21 January 2014
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India Supreme Court commutes 15 death sentences due to delays

NEW DELHI: India's Supreme Court commuted the sentences of 15 death row convicts on Tuesday, ruling that "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in their execution were grounds to change their sentences to life imprisonment.
Human rights lawyers hailed a decision which puts strict new conditions on carrying out the death penalty, and could dramatically reduce its use.
"Unexplained delay is a grounds for commuting death penalty to life sentence," read a ruling from a three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice Palanisamy Sathasivam.
The court clarified that delays needed to be "inordinate" and "inexplicable", but it also said that mental illness such as schizophrenia and the use of solitary confinement could make a convict eligible for a reduced sentence.
"No death row convict can be kept in solitary confinement and it is unconstitutional," it said.
India has more than four hundred people on death row but has carried out only three executions in the last decade.
"This is a landmark judgement that will inch India closer to abolishing the death penalty altogether," Asian Centre for Human Rights director Suhas Chakma told AFP.
India would probably continue to execute those prisoners convicted of crimes relating to national security, he said.
"But 90 percent of the others have been convicted of murder and rape, and these people cannot all be executed," he said.
Human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves, founder of the Human Rights Law Network, told the CNN-IBN television network: "I can't tell you how overjoyed I am, how happy I am."
Tuesday's ruling came in response to a petition from 15 death row convicts who challenged their sentences due to the time taken for the president to consider their mercy petitions.
They include four associates of India's slain "bandit king" Veerappan who were sentenced to death in 2004 for a deadly blast in southern India.
The ruling will probably also affect the high-profile case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, a militant from the northwestern state of Punjab who was convicted over a New Delhi car bombing that killed nine people in 1993.
In April 2013 his appeal to the Supreme Court for clemency on the grounds of mental illness and delays was rejected.
Indian courts regularly hand down death sentences for the "rarest of rare" crimes but the country had an informal eight-year moratorium on executions until November 2012, when it put to death a gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Another militant convicted for his role in an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 was executed in February last year after his appeal for clemency was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee.
Mukherjee, who took office in July 2012, has signaled a hard line on the death penalty by regularly dismissing mercy pleas -- unlike his three predecessors.
The Supreme Court last made major headlines in December when it reinstated a colonial-era ban on homosexuality.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that ruling took India "back in time to 1860" when the law against homosexuality was enacted by the British colonial-era adminstration.

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Battleground Delhi: Is it Modi vs. Rahul in 2014?

Battleground Delhi: Is it Modi vs. Rahul in 2014?

What is with the Congress? India’s grand ol’ party appears to be consumed by a death wish as it hurtles and tumbles through its second term like a headless chicken. The Congress-led coalition is inviting upon itself disaster after incredible disaster as it bleeds itself to death through self inflicted wounds. That this government still has two more years to go is almost overwhelming and not just to the disenchanted voters.
Allies like Mamata Banerjee and Karunanidhi cannot wait to leave the sinking ship although no one has the appetite for another election anytime soon. An imminent showdown, nonetheless, is approaching fast. For which the Congress has no one to blame but itself. Who needs opposition when a government gifts the people steepest petrol price hike in history on its third anniversary? Whoever is running this coalition certainly has a sense of humor.
No one appears to be in charge in Delhi. Senior ministers are forever working at cross purposes and poor party spokespersons have a hard time explaining the absurd ways of this government. The UPA II is on a harakiri mission.
While India has never been a stranger to corruption, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, picked up for the top job for his pristine image, now enjoys the distinction of presiding over the largest number of scams in the shortest period of time. The latest scandal involving the allocation of coal blocs threatens to taint Mr. Clean’s own hands.
Even the economy, the chief achievement of the economist premier, is unraveling fast. Pundits are rushing to write off the great Indian success story. The total rout of the Congress in the recent UP polls points to the shape of things to come.
Sonia Gandhi’s dream of seeing her son replace Singh in 2014 may well remain just that. The Congress chief must be ruing the day she chose the distinctly unambitious Dr. Singh eight years ago to stand in for her and keep the seat warm for the Prince.
Blame it on the presence of a parallel power center or the natural obsequiousness of Congress wallahs but Singh has proved a spectacular disaster, squandering all the goodwill and undoing years of hard work to return Congress to power. Dr. Singh already seems to have given up as he stoically waits, like the old man in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, for the imminent end.
How did the Congress end up here? I wouldn’t care two hoots for the party or why it’s driven by a death wish. What worries me sick is the alternate scenario. For all its flaws and sins, including its repeated betrayal of Muslims, Congress still represents a wide spectrum of Indian society.
What’s most disturbing is the fact that even as the party marches off like a zombie into the sunset, there’s no credible, healthy alternative to replace it. The so-called secular parties are in total disarray and are largely confined to their respective regional base.
That leaves room wide open to dangerous possibilities — like the return of the BJP and ascent of a certain Mr. Narendra Modi. The BJP’s friends in the media have been dreaming and obsessing over Modi’s march to Delhi for years now.
However, his desperate attempts to break free from Gujarat have so far been frustrated by the taint of the 2002 genocide which he presided over for nearly three months, with all state power and machinery at his disposal. Numerous riot cases and monitoring by the Supreme Court have had him bogged down in the state, souring his Delhi dreams.
That problem appears to have been taken care of with the Special Investigation Team recently giving the chief minister exoneration, especially in the Gulbarg massacre of 58 people, including former MP Ehsan Jafri. SIT chief Raghavan’s conclusions however have been challenged by the court-appointed amicus curiae.
There have also been reports of the ex-CBI chief and his family undertaking several foreign trips on Gujarat government’s account. But such minor irritants are unlikely to create any serious trouble now. Besides, when you have the voters and numbers on your side, who gives a damn about a court case or two?
Modi already seems to have scented blood as he moves to take charge of the BJP for the battle 2014, stepping up attacks on the Congress leadership. If his proud pageant at the recent national executive in Mumbai is any indication, the Sangh Parivar has clearly anointed its old apparatchik for the top job in the land. Modi arrived in the film city to a superstar’s reception, having kept the entire BJP leadership waiting all day and sidelining everyone else.
The stage is set for the 2014 elections and Modi is clearly the best and last hope of the Hindutva brotherhood in the eyes of the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP and associates. The timing couldn’t have been better too. Having milked the Ram temple cow bone dry and its poisonous anti-Muslim rhetoric reaching its saturation point, the Parivar has been in the political wilderness for nearly a decade. The BJP is mired in corruption, infighting and numerous scandals. It doesn’t have an avuncular, unifying figure like Vajpayee with a charismatic image — or mask, as some would suggest — either to rally the party and disenchanted allies.
Modi has stepped forward to fill that leadership vacuum. He’s already proved his saffron credentials within the Parivar with the 2002 pogrom. And he needed to win the larger Hindu middle class. Which the media, most of it owned or controlled by powerful business houses that have been pampered by Modi over the past one decade with unlimited sops, are working 24/7 to paint him as the bright future that the emerging India has been waiting for. It never tires of talking about the Hindutva haven of good governance that is Gujarat, witnessing unparalleled development and economic growth year after year.
So what if a couple of thousand of Muslims were killed and rest of them still live in terror in their refugee camps and ghettoes? That was 11 years ago. How long would you cry over the past? Isn’t it time to move on?
No matter what Muslims think, the Indian establishment seems to have not only accepted Modi, it’s breathlessly waiting for his arrival in New Delhi. This legend about Modi’s Gujarat is being spawned at global level as well with the top marketing gurus working the US media to wash the 2002 taint. It seems nothing stands in the way of Modi’s leap to Delhi now.
Indeed, given the total chaos in the Congress-UPA, it could be a cakewalk for the former RSS propagandist. Sonia Gandhi hasn’t been able to devote her time and attention to the party as in the past because of her health issues. And her 42-year-old son simply refuses to grow up. The PM-in-waiting-forever has so far demonstrated a singular lack of appetite for the big fight ahead. So the Delhi throne is now up for grabs for the man who has the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands.
In a way, if Modi finally beats Rahul to take Delhi in 2014, it would be a kind of poetic justice. The Congress has constantly shied away from confronting the Gujarat chief minister on his appalling crimes and continuing victimization of Muslims despite having a mountain of evidence against him.
Even as the UPA government has tried hard to ignore him for fear of hurting its Hindu vote bank, Modi has fortified himself wiping out all evidence of the 2002, targeting senior officials who testified against him and using the state machinery to perpetuate his power. And today he is out to snatch power from the Congress and he could very well succeed in his attempts. That would serve the Congress right. What would it mean for the country though? I shudder at the very thought.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

AAP upsets the Modi versus Rahul format

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AAP upsets the Modi versus Rahul format

Meeting a friend in his avatar as a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) required cultural adjustment. Where should we meet? Certainly not on the exclusive floors of five-star hotels where seasoned politicians seek privacy as do captains of industry.
The India International Center, Habitat, even the India Islamic Center have the right ambience but they require membership and so cannot qualify as an Aam Aadmi rendezvous. What we, my friend and I, were looking for was the old fashioned Coffee House where teachers, students, journalists, artists, politicians once mingled inexpensively. Shall we look forward to a chain of Aam Aadmi Coffee Houses across the country?
The party, which exploded on the scene with the suddenness of revelation, simply does not have the time to stitch together a national organization before the general elections in May 2014. But there is a spontaneous local growth of AAP in the states in the aftermath of the Delhi results.
Should AAP concentrate on 80 Lok Sabha seats or spread itself across 240 in a house of 543? Opinion in the party is divided on this. It already claims some organizational presence across 300 districts. The surge in Delhi had reverberations even in states where its presence was less than rudimentary — Tamil Nadu, for instance, where its helpline crashed because of overloading.
Depending on the demands that Delhi makes on the leadership, the party would like to start working early for state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana due in October. It is particularly well placed in Haryana because some of its better-known leaders like Yogendra Yadav live in that state. This is the reason why his name does not figure in AAP Delhi cabinet. Prashant Bhushan has also kept himself out of government. He can now organize the party’s informal think tank and cast his eye on a wider turf for the general election and beyond.
Delhi, where AAP has arisen, can be a mean city, with deeply entrenched interests. The rapturous applause with which south Delhi and the club set had received the results is giving way to caution, a cunning reserve, eyeing both sides of the street.
This lot has been rattled by AAP. These are also powerful vested interests, which will fight tooth and nail for their survival. Every trick in the book, social media, stings and manageable news channels will be used to demoralize AAP.
In sharp contrast, are the tribe made famous by Sangeeta Richard in New York — the domestic workers. They sit huddled in groups in the park near my house along with the rickshaw drivers who have parked their vehicle outside the Metro station. There is a resolve here to consolidate behind AAP. A section of the media is already showing its colors. It did not even wait for the swearing in ceremony. It bared its fangs well in advance. At his press conference, Chief Minister designate Arvind Kejriwal promised that AAP will fulfill its promises, “but you must realize that I have no magic wand.”
No sooner had Kejriwal uttered “magic wand” than the anchor of a channel interjected. “Look how prompt he is with his excuses.” So the honeymoon period with the media may be short lived.
Corporate interests who control the media have gauged that AAP is not just a flash in the pan. It has national potential and could therefore disrupt larger game plans. A year ago, the media had hyped up a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi campaign. Modi rose to the bait but Rahul did not. Somehow, the Confederation of Indian Industry roped him in for an hour’s solo performance in April, which did not set the Yamuna on fire. Word went out that he would concentrate on building up the party.
The Dec. 8 election results must have disturbed India Inc. on several counts. The Congress was sinking; BJP did stand its ground in all four states but there was no discernible Modi magic. Upsetting all calculations, AAP came to power in Delhi within a year of being born.
The scenario is encouraging for regional formations. In this framework, even AAP is a regional force. And yet, unlike the Dravida parties or caste parties in UP and Bihar, AAP is neutral in terms of caste, community and linguistic regionalism. Since it was born in the nation’s capital, it looks much more cosmopolitan and all embracing.
Against this backdrop, what is the future for the Modi versus Rahul format? And, danger of dangers, should Snoopgate catch up with Modi, what future for him?
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Migrant spouse of pregnant woman detained on way to hospital

In this file photo taken on August 5, 2010 a pregnant woman walks outside the State Department in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 13 min 10 sec ago
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Migrant spouse of pregnant woman detained on way to hospital

  • Agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement questioned the couple and asked for identification
  • They do not have legal authorization to live in the US, and all five of their children are US citizens

LOS ANGELES: A California woman said Saturday that she had to drive herself to the hospital and give birth without her husband after he was detained by immigration agents.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the man was detained because he was wanted on an outstanding arrest warrant in a homicide case in Mexico.
Maria del Carmen Venegas said she and her husband, Joel Arrona Lara, were driving to the hospital Wednesday when they stopped for gas in San Bernardino, just east of Los Angeles.
Surveillance footage shows two vehicles immediately flank the couple’s van after they pulled into the gas station. Agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement questioned the couple and asked for identification, Venegas said.
Venegas, 32, said she provided hers but that Arrona had left his at home in their rush to the hospital. The surveillance footage shows the agents handcuffing the 35-year-old Arrona and taking him away, leaving a sobbing Venegas alone at the gas station.
Venegas said she drove herself to the hospital for a scheduled cesarean section for the birth of her fifth child.
“I feel terrible,” Venegas said in a telephone interview from the hospital as her newborn son Damian cried in the background.
“We need him now more than ever,” she said.
Venegas said she and her husband came to the US 12 years ago from the city of Leon in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. They do not have legal authorization to live in the US, and all five of their children are US citizens, she said.
Venegas said her husband is a hard worker and the sole provider of the family.
In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, Immigration and Custom Enforcement said Arrona “was brought to ICE’s attention due to an outstanding warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico on homicide charges,” spokeswoman Lori Haley said.
ICE said agents with the agency’s Fugitive Operations Team detained Arrona on Wednesday and said he remained in custody pending removal proceedings.
Though the team prioritizes arresting immigrants who are transnational gang members, child sex offenders and those who’ve had previous convictions for violent crimes, the agency’s statement said it “will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” the statement said.
Emilio Amaya Garcia, director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, said his nonprofit group is providing legal help to Venegas and Arrona, will file a motion on Monday for an immigration court to set a bail hearing for Arrona and will ask that his removal proceedings be canceled.
Garcia did not respond to messages and calls for comment about the arrest warrant in Mexico.