South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Devender Pal Singh is at risk of imminent execution in New Delhi, India, after the President of India rejected his mercy petition in May. This is the second petition rejected in the same month.

Devender Pal Singh (also known as Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar) was sentenced to death in August 2001 after being found guilty of involvement in bomb attack in New Delhi in 1993 that killed nine. He was found guilty solely on the basis of an unsubstantiated confession he made to police and later retracted as being made under police pressure. He was arrested under the subsequently-lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) at New Delhi Airport in January 1995, after being deported from Germany where he had sought political asylum. TADA is recognised as containing provisions that are incompatible with international standards for fair trial.

In March 2002, the death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, with two judges in favour and the senior judge acquitting Devender Pal Singh. In December 2002, a review petition challenging the legitimacy of the death penalty was rejected by the same three judges maintaining a difference of opinion. The two judges in favour of the death sentence observed that the non-unanimous sentence could be a factor considered in the mercy petition process. Although other mercy petitions appear to have been accepted on the same ground, Devender Pal Singh’s petition was rejected by the President in May 2011.

In addition to concerns about the fairness of the trial, the eight-year delay in announcing the verdict of the mercy petition and the resulting prolonged stay on death row may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Devender Pal Singh was admitted into a New Delhi psychiatric facility in January and has reportedly attempted to commit suicide a number of times.

The Chief Justice of India has previously described the time spent by a condemned prisoner on death row as “living death”. The Supreme Court of India has also ruled that delay in executing the death sentence is a factor in deciding on the commutation of a death sentence and has commuted death sentences in a number of cases due to long delays in deciding mercy petitions.

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