The Indian government should halt the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who has been on death row since August 2007 for the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 27, 2012, acourt in Chandigarh, Punjab refused a request for a stay of execution and ordered that the hanging proceed on March 31.
On August 31, 2005, Beant Singh and others were killed by a suicide bomber in Chandigarh. Rajoana admitted being part of the conspiracy, and has refused to appeal his conviction and death sentence, saying that he does not regret the killing.
“The death penalty is always wrong and the Indian government should immediately stop this execution,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Beyond that, executing Rajoana would merely continue the cycle of killing and retribution between the Sikh community and the Indian state that has long divided communities.”
The killing of Beant Singh occurred in the context of abuses by government security forces and Sikh militants during a secessionist insurgency in Punjab that began in the 1980s. The militants sought to avenge the 1984 massacres of Sikhs after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The bodyguards in turn were avenging the government assault on the Sikh Golden Temple in Armritsar, Punjab. Although capital punishment remains legal in India and the courts frequently impose the death sentence, no execution has occurred for more than seven years. If Rajoana is executed, he will be the second person sent to the gallows since 1995. The last person executed was Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was convicted in a rape and murder case of a child and hanged in Kolkata in August 2004.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badalhas said that all legal aspects of the case will need to be examined before his government can consider an execution. The last hanging in Punjab was in 1989.
A number of appeals have been filed against the Rajoana execution. The petition seeking deferment of the hanging was filed by the superintendent of Patiala central jail, saying that although Rajoana had not appealed his conviction, his fellow accused have challenged their convictions and those appeals are still pending.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice.
“The Indian government has rightly not carried out executions for nearly a decade,” Ganguly said. “It should now officially declare a moratorium, commute all existing death sentences, and then abolish the death penalty for all crimes.”