Uncertainty Looms Over Execution of Convict in ’93 Mumbai Bombings

By Rohit Wadhwaney
2015.07.28
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150728-IN-MEMON-620 An Indian activist is detained by police during a protest against the death sentence of Yakub Memon, a key plotter of the 1993 Mumbai bomb attacks, July 28, 2015.
AFP

A two-member bench of India’s Supreme Court delivered a split verdict Tuesday on whether a man convicted in the 1993 Mumbai bombings will be put to death Thursday, amid growing calls to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.

Justice Kurian Joseph agreed to stay the execution while Justice A.R. Dave dismissed the plea filed by Yakub Memon, 52, who was sentenced to death in July 2007 for his alleged involvement in the terror attack in Bombay, as Mumbai was then called.

The split decision forced the apex court to refer the matter to a three-member bench, which is expected to rule Wednesday on Memon’s execution.

In what is widely considered the most daring terrorist attack ever mounted on Indian soil, 13 bomb explosions rocked Mumbai, India’s financial capital, on March 12, 1993, killing 257 people and injuring more than 700.

According to investigators, underworld mafia boss Dawood Ibrahim coordinated the attacks through his subordinate Tiger Memon, Yakub’s brother. Both are said to be hiding in Pakistan.

Memon, a chartered accountant by profession, has consistently maintained he was unaware of his brother’s involvement until the bombings occurred.

In his petition, Memon challenged the Maharashtra government’s July 13 order to execute him on July 30, because that order was issued before his curative petition – the final legal recourse available to a death row convict – was heard by the Supreme Court.

The apex court dismissed the curative petition on July 21.

Memon, who has been behind bars since 1994, further appealed that his death sentence be commuted to life because he has suffered from schizophrenia since 1996 and already has spent 21 years in prison.

“A person should not be given a life sentence and a death sentence for the same crime,” he said in his plea. In India, those sentenced to life imprisonment generally can appeal for parole after serving 14 years.

‘Correct legal procedure not followed’

Memon’s lawyer, Raju Ramachandran, also argued that correct procedure was not followed because the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) court issued Memon’s death warrant on April 30 while his client was informed of the proposed date of execution only on July 13.

“The TADA judge gives him 90 days notice for execution but the state government gives notice of only 17 days. The state government’s order is premature,” Ramachandran said.

Justice Joseph agreed with attorney arguments that Memon’s curative petition should be heard again, but his colleague on the bench sided with Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi, who said the petitioner had exhausted all his legal remedies when his curative petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court on July 21.

Of the 11 convicts sentenced to death for the 1993 attack, Memon is the only one whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, in March 2013. His mercy petition was also rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee in May 2014.

According to official records, Memon was arrested from the New Delhi railway station on Aug. 5, 1994 after spending more than a year in hiding in Dubai and Pakistan.

However, in a posthumously published letter in Indian news portal Rediff.com, B. Raman, then the head of India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), claimed that Memon was picked up from the Kathmandu airport in 1994.

Wife’s plea

Memon’s wife Raheen, 42, who was also arrested in connection with the attack but was acquitted in 2006, said the Memon family returned to India of its own free will to expose those behind the bombings.

“We are innocent and that is why we came back,” Raheen told BenarNews. “We had gone to Kathmandu to consult a lawyer so we could cooperate with Indian authorities. Otherwise, we had a very comfortable stay in Pakistan and didn’t have to return.”

She said she believed her husband was not guilty because he swore to his innocence on their 21-year-old daughter Zubaida’s life several times.

“He was unaware of the attacks before they were executed. He wouldn’t swear on Zubaida’s life otherwise.”

Of their travel to Dubai days before the well-orchestrated attack, Raheen said the family didn’t escape but went there to celebrate Eid as they did every year.

“While we were in Dubai we came to know of the blasts. From there, we were whisked away to Pakistan on forged documents,” she said.

“Even if you think my husband is guilty, sentence him to life. But let him live. He has not been well since 1996. Hasn’t he already paid the price for his brother’s sins?”

Calls for commutation of sentence

There have been growing calls across India for commutation of Memon’s death sentence.

On Monday, a group of politicians, judges and film stars submitted a fresh petition to President Mukherjee, urging him to pardon Memon.

Noting that the convict suffers from schizophrenia, the signatories argued that the Supreme Court had “applied a different yardstick” to Memon after commuting the death sentence of 10 others found guilty by the same TADA court.

“In comparison to Yakub Memon, the 10 co-accused planted the bombs and played a much more critical and direct role in the actual execution of the conspiracy,” the petition read.

“I disagree (with the death sentence for Memon) because I don’t think he was a principal player in the blasts,” Manoj Joshi, a security expert at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told BenarNews.

“I support the death penalty but only in the rarest of rare case,” Joshi said. “Punishment must have a balance of three elements, a) retribution, b) proportionality, and c) the belief that a person is capable of reformation. This one goes against principles b and c.”

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