New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights while releasing its report, “Death Reserved for the Poor” today stated that condemned prisoner, Surinder Koli, who was convicted and sentenced to death in the Rimpa Halder murder case must not be executed before conclusion of the trial in 11 other cases of the Nithari murders in which he is a co-accused and the only witness against the other accused, Maninder Singh Pandher. Koli's case must be reviewed again in the light of the judgements in all the pending Nithari cases.
The stay on Koli's execution by the Allahabad High Court expires on 1 December 2014.
“If Koli is executed, the families of the victims of 11 pending cases in which Koli is an accused shall be denied justice, which means nothing less than final conclusion of the trials. Further, if Koli is executed, co-accused Pandher will get inadvertent favour. As Koli remains in jail he does not pose any threat to society whatsoever, and there is nothing urgent which warrants his execution before the conclusion of the trials of all the pending cases.” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Coordinator of the National Campaign for Abolition of Death Penalty in India.
The right to equal justice provided under Article 39A of the Constitution of India is highly flawed both in substance and procedure, and access to justice depends almost on a person’s socio-economic status. The report concluded that it is the poor and uneducated who are disproportionately awarded death penalty as they are unable to defend themselves in the highly expensive legal system. On the other hand, the rich and well-connected criminals can sabotage the probe, intimidate, influence and induce witnesses, suppress evidence with money and muscle power, and abuse all the procedural rights.
The report highlighted a number of cases of miscarriage of justice including by the Supreme Court which had upheld death penalty to juveniles like Ram Deo Chauhan of Assam in 2000 and Ankush Maruti Shinde of Maharashtra in 2009 as the legal aid lawyers provided by the State did not raise the issue of juvenility before the Courts.
"If Ram Deo Chauhan and Ankush Maruti Shinde were from rich and educated families, such gross miscarriage of justice would not arisen."- further stated Mr Chakma.
Asian Centre for Human Rights recommended to the Government of India to grant mercy to all those who are defended by legal aid because of poverty in all stages of the trial and appeal, and further ensure that the trial courts appoint advocate/amicus curiae who have trial practices on the offences that the accused is charged with.