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Rights bodies laud Supreme Court decision commuting death sentences of 15

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 - 2:18pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Plea of three involved in former PM Rajiv Gandhi's assassination to come up on January 29; Devender Singh Bhullar likely to benefit from today's ruling

Human rights organisations are elated with the Supreme Court’s decision commuting the death sentences of 15 convicts on death row to life sentences over long delays in consideration of their mercy petitions and mental illness.

The 15 people whose sentences have been commuted are: Simon, Gnanaprakasham, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran (involvement in a landmine blast that killed 22), Sonia and Sanjeev Choudhary (murder of eight relatives), Gurmeet Singh (murder of 13 relatives), Shivu and Jadeswamy (rape and murder of a woman), Suresh and Ramji (murder of five relatives), Jafar Ali (murder of wife and five daughters), Praveen Kumar (murder of four people), Sunder Singh (murder of five relatives) and Maganlal Barela (murder of five daughters).

“This (decision) takes India an inch closer to being an abolitionist state,” said Suhas Chakma, director, Asian Centre for Human Rights. It also corrects the Supreme Court’s earlier erroneus judgement in which it said that it cannot show mercy in terror cases as per Indian laws.”

Amnest International India and the Commonwealth Human Rights Inititative (CHRI) too said the apex court had taken a positive step. “This is an extremely positive and encouraging step. We are very happy with the court’s ruling, and hope that sentences of all death row convicts are commutted over time,” said Divya Iyer, senior researcher, Amnesty International India. “The biggest thing is that the court, while commutting the death sentence, did not made any difference between terror and other cases.”

The Supreme Court did not commute the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Arivu for their involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The court has set aside their matter for January 29.

Additionally, the ruling is expected to benefit Devender Pal Bhullar, who has been on death row since 2001 for a bomb attack that killed nine people in Delhi in 1993.

Researchers and rights activists estimate that more than 400 convicts face the death row in India. Reporting from National Crime Bureau records, CHRI said that 1,560 convicts were awarded death sentences for various crimes between 2001-2012. With 395 convicts on the death row, Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of people facing execution; Bihar (144), Maharshtra (129) and Tamil Nadu (106) too have more than a hundred people facing the death penalty.

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