No death penalty even for terrorists, says Shashi Tharoor

By: | Published: August 2, 2015 6:21 PM

Under attack over his tweets after Yakub Memon's execution, Shashi Tharoor today stuck to his opposition to death penalty even for terrorists, saying states should not act like "murderers"...

Under attack over his tweets after Yakub Memon’s execution, Shashi Tharoor today stuck to his opposition to death penalty even for terrorists, saying states should not act like “murderers” and that the criminal justice system left much room for errors and biases.

“Terrorists should be put behind bars throughout their life without parole. In earlier days, there was a belief that if a person murders someone, he should be killed. Why do we need to follow the old obsolete practice…,” the Congress MP and former Union Minister said.

“When we implement capital punishment, we are actually acting like them. They are the murderers and the state should not act like them,” Tharoor told reporters here on the sidelines of a function.

On the recent controversy over his tweet on the execution of Mumbai terror attack convict Memon, he said, “I have not said a word on Memon case. What I tweeted was that I was not going into the merits of an individual case and it was the responsibility of the Supreme Court. I had tweeted against the death penalty which is an obsolete practice.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had also said that “we don’t have the right to take anyone’s life.”

The Congress MP from Thiruvanathapuram said not only he, but several leaders, including Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Kanimozhi, Shatrughan Sinha and Varun Gandhi had also supported the abolition of death penalty.

“As many as 143 countries have already abandoned the practice of death penalty. Another 25 countries are not practising it though the capital punishment is there in their law. Only around 35 countries are practising it at present. Why should our country follow such a practice?,” Tharoor asked.

Tharoor had earlier faced BJP’s ire for saying that he was “saddened” by the news that “our government has hanged a human being. State-sponsored killing diminishes us all by reducing us to murderers too”.

In an article on the issue, Tharoor said there is no statistical correlation between applying the death penalty and preventing murder. About 10 people were executed from 1980 to 1990 for the offence of murder under section 302 of the IPC, but the incidence of murder increased from 22,149 to 35,045 during the same period.

Similarly, during 1990-2000, even though about 8 people were executed, the incidence of murder increased from 35,045 to 37,399. However, during 2000-2010, only one person was executed and the incidence of murder decreased from 37,399 in 2000 to 33,335 in 2010, Tharoor said.

He contended that the “ambiguous” application of the “rarest of the rare” principle enunciated by the Supreme Court further disabled an individual from determining what offence would actually lead to a sentence of death penalty or life imprisonment.

The Congress MP argued that the quality of legal representation and the economic status of the accused have to be factored in since many more poor criminals were executed than well-off ones.

The judicial use of expressions like “the collective conscience of the community has been shocked” to justify the death penalty testifies to the room for subjectivity and the grave risk that ill-informed media rhetoric can affect a decision, he added.

Noting that the prevailing criminal justice system leaves much room for “errors and biases”, he said there was a possibility that the investigating agency is not able to collect sufficient and relevant evidence, the legal counsel not competent enough to assess and defend his case and the judge was influenced by personal biases and media reports.

While 436 death sentences were imposed by the lower courts in the four years from 2010-13, 280 were commuted to life imprisonment and only two people were actually executed, he said.

Tharoor went on to contend that that there were “no comprehensive parameters” to ascertain whether a person has been rightfully executed and hence, morally difficult to justify taking such an extreme step.

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