Emotional scenes at Patiala House after order.
New Delhi: Exactly 15 hours before they were due to be hanged, the four Nirbhaya gangrape-murder case convicts on Friday got yet another last-minute reprieve as a Delhi court deferred their execution indefinitely.
Convicts Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Akshay Kumar Singh (31) and Vinay Kumar Sharma (26) — who were due to be executed at 6 am on Saturday — will not be hanged until further court orders.
Additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana passed the order on the plea by the convicts seeking adjournment of the executions “sine die” (with no appointed date for resumption). This is the second time that the execution of the death warrants has been deferred. The first order for execution of death sentence, issued on January 7 for January 22, was stayed on January 17. The second order, issued on January 17, for February 1 was stayed on Friday.
In deeply distressing and emotional scenes outside the Patiala House court complex here, Nirbhaya’s mother Asha Devi broke down and cried after the execution of the four men convicted in the 2012 gangrape, torture and murder of her 23-year-old daughter was postponed for a second time.
Asha Devi told reporters that the convicts’ lawyer, A.P. Singh, had bragged to her in open court that “the hanging will never happen”. Drawing on seemingly endless reserves of courage and patience, she hit back saying that
she would continue to fight for justice and would not stop till the convicts, whom she said “have no right to live”, were hanged. “I want everyone to hear... I want the Delhi government to listen... I want the Central government to listen... the courts and the government are bowing their heads before these criminals,” the distraught mother cried out, adding: “We keep getting disappointed by the system”.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was “sad” that the convicts were “escaping the death sentence” by using legal loopholes, stressing that there was an urgent need to amend the laws to ensure hanging in cases of rape within six months. He tweeted: “It saddens me that convicts in the Nirbhaya case are escaping the death sentence by using legal loopholes. They should be immediately hanged. We are in dire need to amend our law so that in cases of rape, hanging takes place within six months.”
In the crowded courtroom, A.P. Singh, counsel for three convicts — Pawan, Vinay and Akshay, urged the judge to adjourn the matter “sine die” saying that their legal remedies were yet to be exhausted. The Tihar jail authorities had challenged their application saying it was not maintainable and death row convicts can be hanged separately. The Tihar authorities’ argument, however, was not accepted by the court.
The convicts’ lawyer argued that the rules dictate that when one convict’s plea is pending, the others cannot be hanged. In the order, the judge noted if an appeal or an application is made by only one convict, the execution of sentence shall be postponed in the case of co-convicts as well.
The judge said: “Without commenting upon the dilatory tactics adopted by the convicts, it would suffice to state that seeking redressal of one’s grievances through the procedure established by law is the hallmark of any civilised society. The courts of this country cannot afford to adversely discriminate against any convict, including death row convicts, in pursuit of his legal remedies, by turning a Nelson’s eye towards him.”
The judge said: “As a cumulative effect of the aforesaid discussion, I am of the considered opinion that the execution of warrants issued by this court vide order dates January 17, 2020 deserves to be postponed till further orders.” The court said a copy of this order should be given to the counsel for the convicts and the jail officials present in the court. It also directed the jail superintendent to file the compliance report by Saturday.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had dismissed Pawan’s plea seeking a review of the decision by which his application claiming to be a juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence was rejected. Pawan’s claim of being a minor at the time of the 2012 gangrape-murder has been dismissed by the Supreme Court for the second time in two weeks. He had asked the court to review its decision last week, even though he was told that once rejected, an age claim cannot be contested repeatedly.
However, it is the mercy petition filed by convict Vinay Sharma that secured Friday’s reprieve. Under the rules, if the convict’s mercy plea is rejected, he or she has to be given 14 days till execution.
Arguing for the convicts, lawyer A.P. Singh said: “They are not terrorists.” He cited Rule 836 of the jail manual which says in a case where more than one person has been handed the death penalty, the execution cannot take place unless all convicts exhaust their legal options.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover, who is representing Mukesh, also joined Mr Singh, saying there is a common sentence in which the accused have been convicted. “The execution order is a common order. My client cannot be hanged and the execution of one cannot be separated from the others. Hence, the execution should be stayed,” she said. Mukesh is out of legal options after his plea against the presidential order was rejected by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Public prosecutor Irfan Ahmad had earlier argued: “The execution date of February 1 still holds good for all convicts barring Vinay Sharma, since his mercy petition is pending before the President. So all the other convicts except Vinay can be hanged and no law prevents their hanging.”