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Death row relief for Omar Sheikh allies

New Delhi, Aug. 28: The Supreme Court today commuted the death sentence of three Pakistanis to life imprisonment. The trio — Nazir Khan, Abdul Rahim and Naseer Mohmood — was involved in the kidnapping of three Britons and one American in Delhi in 1994.

The kidnap “mastermind”, Ahmed Omar Sayeed Sheikh, better known as Omar Sheikh, was released in exchange for passengers of the Indian Airlines plane that had been hijacked to Kandahar in 1999.

The Pakistani nationals contended that since the Indian government let off the “mastermind”, they should be acquitted as they were only “tools”.

But the division bench of Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Passayat rejected the argument. The bench held that “death sentence may have been appropriate” in the case of Omar, who “has managed to go out of the net of law”, but in their case “it would be appropriate to impose life sentence”.

The apex court also made it clear that “imprisonment for life means imprisonment for the full span of life” — which is normally 20 years under criminal law — and no remission would be allowed.

The prosecution’s charge was that Omar, a British national trained in Afghanistan, visited several places in Pakistan, met Abdul Rauf and other militants of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Al-e-Hadees and was on a “mission” to strike terror in India.

In September-October, 1994, Omar masterminded the kidnappings of the British and American nationals. Uttar Pradesh police later stumbled upon evidence and busted one of his hideouts in Ghaziabad.

The apex court, while commuting the death sentence given by a Tada court to 20 years, said “criminal law adheres in general to the principle of proportionality in prescribing liability according to the culpability of each kind of criminal conduct. It ordinarily allows some significant discretion to the judge in arriving at a sentence”.

At the same time, the bench declined to entertain an argument of the appellants that they have become “victims of unintended circumstances” and, while the “mastermind and kingpin” has gone out “mocking” the country’s security network, they were “facing the brunt”.

The apex court also upheld the life sentence imposed on three Indians — Narul Amin, Mohammad Sayeed and Mohammed — who were part of the kidnapping.

“Terrorists have no religion, no concept of communal or social harmony and value for human life,” Justice Passayat, writing the judgment for the bench, said.

“Secularism, which is one of the great attributes of the Indian Constitution, is viewed differently by some people. Communal harmony is not what they want. No religion propagates terrorism or hatred. Love for all is the basic foundation on which almost all religions are founded. Unfortunately, some fanatics who have distorted views of religion spread messages of terror and hatred,” the bench said.

Referring to the attack on Parliament in December 2001, the judges said even the “temple of democracy” in the country did not “escape the wrath of such people”.

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