Indians fear Kasab could slip the noose
By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI - Despite the relatively speedy verdict in India's trial of the sole
surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and talk of Ajmal Amir Kasab being
"fast-tracked" to the gallows by the end of the year, Kasab could yet exploit
the appeals process and delay his execution by years or even decades.
Judge Madan Laxmanlal Tahaliyani last week handed Kasab a death sentence after
he was found guilty of waging war on India, mass murder, conspiracy and
terrorism offences during the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, during which
166 people were killed and 300 injured.
Kasab's sentencing marked the culmination of a dramatic, high-profile trial
that had consumed the public's attention for 17 months, with a record 653
witnesses and a record 1,522-page
judgment. The case, concluded in 271 days, was the fastest ever terror trial
conducted in India. In contrast, the trial for the bombings of Mumbai in 1993
dragged on for 14 years.
However, legal experts say the trial's swift conclusion could be undermined by
a long delay in the sentencing process - India has not carried out an execution
since 2004 and only two since 1998. According to Section 366 of the Criminal
Procedure Code, the Mumbai trial court now needs to send the evidence for the
Kasab case to the Bombay High Court, which needs to confirm the sentence. This
could take up to a year or more.
If the High Court approves Kasab's death sentence, the law gives him the option
of appealing to the Supreme Court - there is no indication yet of whether he
will appeal. The appeal would then be examined in great detail. If the Supreme
Court approves the death sentence, Kasab - being a non-Indian - could still
file a mercy petition before the president under Article 72 of the
While the presidential pardon is pending, Kasab's execution would stay
suspended - perhaps for decades. The president's decision on a mercy petition
involves many formalities, such as a need to consult the Council of Ministers.
If Kasab's sentencing were to be stretched out, this could mar achievements
seen in the judicial system's handling of the trial. Observers say that despite
the complexity and high drama of the trial, the court was still able to act
swiftly and transparently. The legal fraternity is impressed that the rights of
a man as clearly guilty as Kasab, who was caught on camera killing
indiscriminately, were upheld by the system.
"The trial has depicted the Indian democratic processes in a favorable light.
It has brought the massacre's villain to book through the right legal
procedures without any state pressure or political interference," said
Delhi-based advocate and activist Kamini Jaiswal. The lawyer said the trial
underscored the "robustness of India's criminal justice system". All nine of
the other gunmen who stormed into Mumbai with Kasab were killed during the
Judge Tahilyani has been hailed as having conducted the trial with fairness,
with his acquittal of Kasab's Indian co-conspirators - Fahim Ansari and
Sabahuddin Ahmad - for lack of evidence underscoring his refusal to crack under
intense public pressure.
Despite the enormity of his crime, if Kasab does decide to appeal he could cite
circumstances such as his young age, underprivileged background and lack of
legal knowledge. The judge, on the other hand, is legally bound to give reasons
for choosing capital punishment and not life imprisonment.
Once all due processes are cleared, Kasab's death could be further delayed by a
queue on India's death row, where over 300 convicts await execution. However,
Law Minister Veerappa Moily has said Kasab could be a special case. "This is
one such case which needs to fast-tracked by the High Court. Sentiment is
riding very high," Moily told NDTV this week.
"If he doesn't file any appeal anywhere I think the chances of him getting
hanged this year are quite high," Home Secretary G K Pillai told the CNN-IBN
news channel in an interview.
Public anger at the prospect of Kasab evading execution came alongside
heightened resentment of Pakistan's failure to prosecute leaders of the
Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) group believed to have masterminded the attack. Some
point to the recent case of the Pakistani-American who tried to bomb Times
Square, Faisal Shahzad, as proof that Pakistan's government and security forces
are not serious enough about cracking down on militancy.
"It's not just one incident here. This is part of a series, which is no longer
an India-Pakistan problem," Jasjit Singh, director of the Center for Strategic
and International Studies in New Delhi, told the Associated Press.
India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is set to visit Pakistan on June
26 for a regional conference in Islamabad, where he will hold talks with
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik as part of a rapprochement process.
Although Pakistan says it has begun a "secret" trial of some LeT members, India
insists that full-fledged talks will not begin until terrorist groups are fully
dismantled on Pakistani soil.
Neeta Lal is a widely published writer/commentator who contributes to
many reputed national and international print and Internet publications.