Giving a fresh ray of hope for several death-row convicts, including 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case convict Yakub Abdul Razak Memon , the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that their review petitions against the verdict upholding the death sentence will now be heard by a three-judge bench in open court.
A Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said that all the death row convicts, whose review petitions have already been rejected but their sentence has not been executed, may file fresh petitions for an open court hearing of their review pleas within a month and they will be heard for at least half-an-hour.
However, in the cases, where the curative petition has already been decided, the death row convict will not have this opportunity to avail the same.
The constitution bench verdict came on a batch of petitions seeking that their plea for the recall of verdict upholding their death sentence should be heard in the open court by a three judges bench.
As of now the review plea of death row convicts were being considered by the judges in their chambers through circulation.
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By its order, the court decided a batch of petitions, filed by eight death-row convicts, including Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, convicted in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, and Red Fort Attack case convict Mohd Arif. While Arif’s curative petition has already been rejected, Memon has not exhausted this remedy.
The court had in June stayed the execution of Memon, who is the brother of Ibrahim Memon, better known as Tiger Memon, the alleged mastermind and the prime accused who is absconding in the blast case.
President Pranab Mukherjee had in April rejected the mercy petition of Memon and the decision was left to the Maharashtra government for fixing the execution date.
Memon is lodged in the high-security ward of Nagpur jail. In March last year, the SC had confirmed the death sentence awarded to Memon, holding him guilty of being the “driving spirit” behind the blasts that killed 257 people, while commuting the death sentence awarded to 10 others to life imprisonment till their death. The court had said that Memon’s “commanding position and the crime of utmost gravity” warranted capital punishment. Memon then moved a clemency petition before the President in October last year.
A chartered accountant by profession, Memon was arrested in 1994. Gangster Dawood Ibrahim is also an accused in the case. The government had recommended rejection of Memon’s mercy petition on the ground that it was an act of terrorism and did not qualify for pardon.
While staying his execution, the court had tagged his plea with a petition by Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist Mohd Arif alias Ashfaq, who was convicted in the 2000 Red Fort attack case, in which three people, including two Army personnel, were killed.
Ashfaq’s petition was referred to the Constitution bench to decide if the review of death penalty cases warranted open court hearings.
Others whose appeals against execution of death penalty have been decided include three convicts in the 2000 Dharampuri bus burning incident, a former police constable held guilty in a grotesque rape and murder case, and two other convicts in murder cases.
These cases were decided along with the appeal by three AIADMK workers involved in burning to death three college girls in Tamil Nadu in 2000 after J Jayalalithaa’s conviction in a corruption case. The SC had in 2011 stayed execution of capital punishment upheld by it for convicts C Muniappan, Ravindran and Nedunchezhian.
It had also stayed the execution of death sentence of former police constable Umesh Reddy, alias B A Umesh, who was convicted of the gruesome rape and murder of a widow in Bangalore in 1998.
Sentenced to death for kidnapping a seven-year-old boy and murdering the child after his ransom demand of five lakhs was not met in 2009, Sundarrajan’s plea was also adjudicated in this bunch of petitions.
Sonu Sardar was sentenced to death for killing five members of a family in Chhattisgarh in 2004 and his mercy petition was rejected by the President in April. He had also moved the SC, seeking stay on his execution and the court heard his case too. All those whose curative petitions have not been dismisses may move the court again.