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Array of appeals steers stay

The ripples from Writers’ Buildings did not take long to reach Alipore jail, as word of the presidential stay on the hanging of Dhananjoy Chatterjee got out on Thursday.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan order, issued a few hours before the hanging (scheduled for Friday dawn), came in the wake of a flood of appeals to convert the death sentence of the rapist and murderer into life imprisonment.

State home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said at Writers’ that he had received an intimation from the Union home ministry to the effect. Advocate-general Balai Ray also received a similar order from Delhi on Thursday morning.

“As per the intimation, the President is looking into the appeals made to him by a section of intellectuals and human rights activists against the death sentence for Dhananjoy. The hanging has, accordingly, been postponed till the President informs the state administration of his decision,” said Deb.

According to home department sources, the pressure groups have cited legal, moral and humanitarian reasons to justify their no-capital-punishment stand. The fact that he has already spent 14 years in prison has also pushed the protests that had reached Rashtrapati Bhavan bypassing Writers’, officials alleged.

The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), that has been trying to build public opinion against the death sentence, was “happy” with the stay. “This will help us with our campaign for the abolition of the death sentence in our country,” said an APDR member on Thursday evening.

The association had written to the governor and the President to protest the death sentence. “It is a barbaric and vindictive act,” added the member. “Convicted criminals have been found innocent in the past. Execution leaves no chance to set right a wrong verdict.”

Union home ministry sources, meanwhile, said a note had been prepared on the basis of these arguments and sent to the President on Monday for his consideration.

Rashtrapati Bhavan then sought the case history from the Bengal government and the high court on Tuesday.

Stalled by the presidential order, the government and the ruling party on Thursday reiterated their support for the death sentence.

Incidentally, a mercy petition by the murderer had been rejected by Governor Viren J. Shah earlier this month.

And at a review on Tuesday, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had decided not to make any recommendation for commuting the death sentence into life imprisonment.

“We thought the execution of the death sentence would send out a stern signal to perpetrators of such crimes,” a home ministry official said on Thursday.

The mood on Alimuddin Street mirrored that at Writers’. “I am opposed to death sentence,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, “but we should not lose sight of the gravity or the enormity of Dhananjoy’s crime.”

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