Indian lawyer battles on abolition’s “last frontier”

9 juillet 2013

Yug Mohit Chaudhry is aware that his work against the death penalty in Mumbai has placed him on a major abolitionist frontline.

“Asia is virtually the last frontier in the battle for abolition, and India, the second most populous country in the world, looms large here. What India does, many of its neighbours follow,” he says.

As a practicing lawyer, Chaudhry witnesses the workings of India’s death penalty system on a daily basis. Last year, he wrote a mercy petition to the President of India for Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving member of the Pakistani group that committed the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. The Indian authorities hanged Kasab on November 21st, 2012, thus breaking an unofficial eight-year moratorium. His body was kept from his family, amid political tension and threats of terrorist reprisals for his death.

At the 5th World Congress, Chaudhry attended the session on terrorism and the death penalty. In the video below, he says the debate aroused his interest in involving terror victims’ families and international diplomats in the fight for abolition:

At the plenary session on the death penalty in Asia, Chaudhry shared his experience of representing clients in capital cases.

He told the Congress that the Indian authorities had admitted to carrying out the two recent executions secretly “to prevent people from stopping them in the courts – which is astonishing in a democracy”.

He added that Indian abolitionist lawyers were developing new litigation strategies. “We used to think once the president or the governor had rejected a mercy petition, it was over. We’re now bringing challenges that go to the heart of the decision by the president.”

At the beginning of July, the Indian government filed a review of a Supreme Court judgement commuting the death penalty on one of Chaudhry’s clients to life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate delay and withholding of relevant information from the president.

The government has claimed that the president’s decision, “either accepting or rejecting a petition, is a sovereign act. This sovereign act is performed after the courts have given their verdict and this sovereign act cannot be subjected to review by the Courts.” Chaudhry disputes this, and is confident that the Supreme Court will reject the review.

Chaudhry also notes that three consecutive challenges to the constitutionality of the death penalty in his country were rebuffed on the grounds of insufficient data. “India needs more research on the death penalty, and this is where international support could play a major role,” he says.

Thomas Hubert