A look at capital punishment in India

Published: 13th September 2013 02:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th September 2013 02:42 PM   |  A+A-


Four men convicted Tuesday of gang-raping and murdering a young Indian woman in December faced death penalty on Friday.

The men, including a part-time bus driver, were joy-riding through New Delhi on a bus on the night of Dec. 16 when they lured the 23-year-old woman and a male friend of hers into boarding. They then beat the friend, took turns raping the woman and violated her savagely with an iron rod. She died two weeks later of internal injuries. They now face the possibility of execution or life in prison.

The prosecutor asked Judge Yogesh Khanna on Wednesday to sentence the men to death, calling the crime barbaric. Their lawyers have called for prison sentences, citing their poverty, poor education and lack of criminal history.

— India's legal system allows for execution in what the Supreme Court calls "the rarest of the rare cases." What defines those cases remains highly debated, but the only executions in recent years have been of convicted terrorists. The vast majority of the 100-150 death sentences handed down each year are eventually commuted to life in prison. India is thought to have carried out about 50 executions since independence in 1947.

— All execution orders must be confirmed by India's High Court, and cases can also be appealed to the Supreme Court. Final appeals for clemency are made to India's president. The office of the current president, Pranab Mukherjee, says it does not keep track of how many clemency appeals it receives or signs. Media reports indicate he has rejected the clemency pleas of 17 people, and commuted one execution. That hardline attitude is widely seen as an effort by the Congress party, which faces national elections next year, not to look weak on terrorism. Mukherjee is a long-time Congress leader.

— For nearly a decade, India had an unofficial moratorium on executions. That ended in November 2012 with the execution of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunmen in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Two months later, Mohammad Afzal Guru, convicted in a deadly 2001 attack on India's Parliament complex, was also hanged. Both of the executions were done secretly, without any public notice. If the four men are sentenced to hang, it is unclear when they would be executed.

— Executions are done by hanging in India, carried out in prisons across the country. Many of the ropes used are made by prisoners at a jail in eastern India.

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