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Afzal's family submits mercy petition

Staff Reporter

Lawyers say an execution is `automatically stayed' till the petition is disposed of

FOR AND AGAINST: Bimla Devi and Jayawati, relatives of victims of Parliament attack, gather at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday to petition President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam urging him to uphold the death sentence to Mohammed Afzal. (Right) Afzal's wife Tabassum with son Ghalib, after submitting a mercy petition for Afzal to the President.

NEW DELHI: The family of Mohammad Afzal, who has been sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case and whose execution has been fixed for October 20, submitted a mercy petition to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on Tuesday. According to lawyers, under the jail manual an execution is "automatically stayed" till the petition remains pending with the President.

And in another development, S.A.R. Geelani, who was acquitted in the case last year, sought reduction of the quantum of punishment awarded to Afzal. He was speaking at a press conference here under the aegis of Society for the Protection of Detainees' and Prisoners' Rights (SPDPR).

Later in the day, while talking to mediapersons outside the Tihar Central Prison complex, lawyer and social activist Nandita Haksar Ms Haksar said: "Under the Jail Manual, the execution is stayed till the pendancy of the mercy petition."

Afzal's family spoke to the media around 6-30 p.m. after their meeting with him at Tihar Jail. His wife Tabassum said, "He still does not want to move a mercy petition seeking clemency. He said he has lost faith in the system." She said the family has on its own submitted the petition earlier in the day through SPDPR seeking mercy from the President. Tabassum was accompanied by her seven-year-old son Ghalib, mother-in-law Ayesha Begum and two brothers-in-law, besides Ms. Haksar and members of SPDPR.

Afzal's elder brother Ejaz Ahmed said his brother has urged the people of Jammu and Kashmir to organise peaceful protests and not to resort to violence. "We have submitted the petition to the President. If it is rejected, we would try to convince Afzal to re-submit the mercy petition," he said.

`Not given a fair trial'

Earlier at a press conference, Mr. Geelani said: "I am not saying that he (Afzal) is innocent but justice has certainly not been meted out to him as he was not given a fair trial. He has been convicted just on the basis of circumstantial evidence. There was no direct evidence to connect him to the case. Even the court has acquitted him of charges of belonging to any terrorist organisation."

He said "the Supreme Court held that Afzal must die to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation. We are not questioning the conviction, but the quantum of punishment."

Mr. Geelani said that throughout the trial, Afzal was even denied the right to have a lawyer of his choice. He referred to the case of Abu Salem, in which the Indian Government has promised the Portuguese Government that he would not be awarded capital punishment, and that of Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been awarded life imprisonment in the September 11, 2001 attack on World Trade Center in New York. Mr. Geelani said Afzal's punishment should also be commuted.

He said capital punishment to the separatist leader Maqbool Butt had motivated many a youth in Kashmir to take up arms and so the death sentence to Afzal was also not the right "strategic move" considering the prevailing circumstances. "All leaders, including Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, have in one voice sought clemency for Afzal," he said, adding that if he were hanged, it would be a stigma on Indian democracy.

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