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Attack sentence today

New Delhi, Dec. 17: The counsel for the four convicted in the Parliament attack case today argued for lesser punishments before a court, which deferred the order of sentence till tomorrow.

Much of the defence lawyers’ arguments that went on for more than an hour hinged on the need to convert possible death sentence to life imprisonment for three of the guilty — Mohammad Afzal, suspended Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani and Shaukat Hussain alias Guru.

In the case of Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru, Shaukat’s wife, her lawyer pleaded that her sentence should be confined to the period served behind bars since arrest as she was not mentally sound and her child needed a better atmosphere to grow up.

Navjot was found guilty of not disclosing to authorities the criminal conspiracy her co-accused hatched to storm the Parliament building on December 13, 2001. She can be jailed for up to 10 years under Section 123 of the Indian Penal Code.

Special public prosecutor D.P. Agarwal pressed for capital punishment on the grounds that it was the worst ever terrorist attack in India’s history. After hearing the arguments, special judge S.N. Dhingra said he would pronounce the sentences at 11 am tomorrow.

The arguments began with Navjot’s counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan pleading that the verdict should give an opportunity for her child to grow up into a healthy person who would have faith in a law that was merciful. Ramakrishnan is also representing her husband Shaukat.

Ramakrishnan said Navjot’s crime was that she concealed the facts but contended that the verdict should take into account her exact role, whether she was in control of the events that led to the assault and the social consequences of the punishment. She also drew the court’s attention to her client’s medical reports. Navjot was suffering from physical trauma, which doctors have described as “reduced self care”, her counsel said. She was on medication.

Arguing for Shaukat, Ramakrishnan quoted extensively from the minority ruling of a Supreme Court order on Bachan Singh — an accused in former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination — and pleaded that death sentence under Section 302 of the IPC should be reduced to life imprisonment.

Shaukat along with Afzal and Geelani were found guilty of waging war against the nation, attempting to kill the Prime Minister and the Union home minister and murdering nine security personnel.

Ramakrishnan cited Justice Bhagwati’s dissenting ruling in the Bachan Singh case to say that capital punishment was not worth it as the life of an individual was more precious. Though she did not mention the case of Bombay blasts accused Abu Salem, the counsel pointed out that the government had recently given an assurance to another country on not executing death sentence in an extradition case.

She cited instances of sobering effects of pardon granted in several cases, including former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The essence of conviction is to reform the accused and rehabilitate them in society rather than making them martyrs, she contended. Shaukat, she added, does not have a criminal past.

Dhingra objected to the term “martyrs”. “It is strange for me that you are making them martyrs. It is the mental make-up which these people have. My sphere is limited. Moment I drift, I will be side tracking.”

Dhingra also said: “I cannot answer why terrorism is not coming to an end. Perhaps, Osama will be able to answer you.”

Court-appointed amicus curiae Neeraj Bansal did not argue much, except for saying that Afzal had a child and a mother. Defence lawyer Seema Gulati said Geelani deserves another chance as there was no evidence on record to suggest he was in direct contact with the militants who stormed Parliament.

At best he could be called a puppet, who was around and used by the five slain terrorists, Gulati added.

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