LONDON: Amnesty International has sent urgent appeals to the President and Prime Minister of India to save the lives of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, who were sentenced to death for murdering and conspiring to murder the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. On August 3, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences imposed on the two men, and all legal remedies have now been exhausted. Kehar Singh has asked for mercy but Satwant Singh has so far refused to do so.

Amnesty International has made appeals for clemency on account of its unconditional opposition to the death penalty. In doing so, it in no way condones the tragic assassination of the late Prime Minister and recognizes that those accused of her murder should be brought to justice.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases on the grounds that it violates the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The organization has long argued that the death penalty has never been shown to have any special deterrent effect, that the imposition and execution of the death penalty brutalizes all those involved in the process and that no means of limiting the death penalty can prevent its being imposed arbitrarily and unfairly. This is especially so when political factors such as those arising from the killing of a Prime Minister surrounded the judicial process,

Amnesty International fully recognizes that Indian law incorporates important safeguards to ensure that justice is administered fairly and openly. Nevertheless, however strict such safeguards may be, there is always the possibility that these may not prevent the execution of an innocent man or woman. In the case of the two men now facing execution, access to the trial by the public was restricted for security reasons, although some members of the press were admitted to attend their trial which was held inside Tihar jail. Defense lawyers have also argued that, apparently for reasons of state security, they were not allowed to. See what they believed was relevant evidence and that, on the same grounds, they were denied the chance to examine certain witnesses. Moreover, doubts have been expressed about the nature of the evidence and that on the same grounds; they were denied the chance to examine certain witnesses. Moreover, doubts have been expressed about the nature of the evidence on which Kehar Singh was convicted of conspiracy to murder: apparently, his conviction was based on the testimony of one witness whose reliability defense lawyers have questioned Under these circumstances, there always will remain some doubt about the extent to which justice was done and, indeed, was seen to be done.

Article extracted from this publication >> December 9, 1988