The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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New line of defence: mental illness

Calcutta, July 3: About 20 top-notch lawyers opposed to capital punishment are going to plead with the Supreme Court to appoint a medical team to assess the mental condition of condemned rape-and-murder accused Dhananjoy Chatterjee.

The team is trying to establish that Dhananjoy is mentally ill to save him from the gallows.

Aware that President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is likely to turn down the mercy plea, the defence lawyers will play what could be the last card in an attempt to get his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Colin Gonzalves, a Mumbai lawyer, has been flown in by Amnesty International, which is backing Dhananjoy’s brother Bikash’s fight for mercy, to join the latest attempt to save the convict.

“For 13 long years the man has suffered a lot, specially after he was condemned to death in 1994. His death sentence was awarded by the high court and then it was stayed. Now this dilly-dally over his mercy petition has caused immense harm to his health. He cannot be hanged in this condition now. Let a special team assess his health condition first,” said advocate Joymalla Bagchi.

The battery of lawyers will also highlight the state government’s delay in executing the first hanging order on February 25, 1994.

Following a legal problem, Justice N.K. Mitra had ordered a stay on Dhananjoy’s hanging. The Bengal government did not contest it for nine years.

Sujato Bhadra, president of the Association for Protection of Democratic Right, alleged that the prison authorities are not allowing Dhananjoy’s family members to meet the prisoner.

“Our suspicion is the government is trying to cover up this aspect (mental illness). This huge delay caused by the government definitely had a toll on Dhananjoy’s mental state,” Bhadra said.

City-based psychiatrists echoed him, saying it is most likely that Dhananjoy has become a patient of “acute stress disorder” after spending over a decade in a dingy four feet-by-six feet condemned cell.

“The delay in executing the sentence will no doubt cause trauma, because one moment he knows that he will be saved and the very next moment he knows that he will go to the gallows. This will no doubt cause mental illness, apart from hypertension and diabetes. A proper medical test will reveal what has happened to him,” said psychiatrist Ranadip Ghosh Roy.

Armed with a detailed writ petition, Bikash is camping in Delhi, waiting for the official word from Rashtrapati Bhavan before they knock on the Supreme Court’s door again. The latest petition has been framed on the following points:

• A 1983 judgment in the Sher Singh vs Punjab government case, where hanging was commuted to life sentence after defence lawyers proved that the state government delayed his hanging by two years. Singh is serving his life sentence now.

• The state government did not supply proper documents to the governor in 1994, which resulted in Dhananjoy’s mercy petition being dismissed. The delay caused mental agony.

• To request formation of an independent medical team and assess Dhananjoy’s mental condition, who, according to the defence counsel, is not mentally fit for hanging.

“Who is responsible for the delay in execution' What is Dhananjoy’s mental condition' Now these questions will come before the court,” said Bagchi.

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