India: Catholic delegation seeks abolition of death penalty

Catholic delegation seeks abolition of death penalty

NEW DELHI (UCAN) — Representatives of a Catholic movement working among prisoners have appealed to Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil to abolish capital punishment.

Six officials of the Prison Ministry India met Patil on July 26 and submitted a memorandum. The 22-year-old ministry works under the Commission for Justice, Peace and Development of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

According to the memorandum, India has 273 people on death row, 44 of whom are awaiting the president's decision on clemency petitions, their last recourse to have their death sentences commuted.

Among the arguments it makes, the memorandum asserts that while India justifies capital punishment as a means of deterring crime, the death penalty has "never acted and would never act as deterrent." Crime has only increased over the years, the prison ministry notes.

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, who accompanied the ministry officials, told UCA News Christians should advocate love, compassion and forgiveness for those on death row. The archbishop expressed hope that "one day we will succeed" in amending the constitution to abolish the death penalty.

Amaladoss Jesuraj, a delegation member, argued India should abolish the death penalty before it asks other nations not to execute Indian citizens convicted of crimes. Speaking with UCA News, he cited the case of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian now on death row in Pakistan, where he was convicted of spying and planting bombs. India has requested clemency. Similarly, it has also pleaded with China to spare two Indians facing execution for drug smuggling.

Father Josekutty Kalayil, the prison ministry's national coordinator, told UCA News the national debate over Singh encouraged him to push for the abolition of capital punishment. The Missionary of St. Thomas priest said his ministry, begun in 1986, has about 6,000 volunteers who visit 850 prisons.

The memorandum pointed out that worldwide, 91 nations have abolished executions and 30 more have had no executions in the past 10 years. This global trend was confirmed on Dec. 18, 2007, when the United Nations passed a resolution for a moratorium on executions with a 104-54 vote. "Regrettably India voted with the minority," the Church group said, noting the resolution calls on nations to impose an "immediate moratorium on executions as the first step toward abolition."

The death penalty puts India in a "precarious situation," the memorandum adds, since the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union does not allow anyone to be extradited to a country where the person could face the death penalty. Hence, in seeking anyone's extradition from a European nation, India would have to give a commitment not to execute that person.

The Church group maintains such a commitment would amount to unequal treatment of Indian citizens.
On the basis of religion, it argues that Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, the three largest religions in India, all speak about God punishing evildoers. Religions also talk about reformation, and "giving a chance to the culprit to compensate the victim would go a long way in reforming the person," the memorandum suggests.
It quotes Biblical passages to underscore the need to reject sin while forgiving the sinner. "Thou shall not kill, is the cultural quintessence and spiritual majesty of our republic's justice system," the memorandum said, quoting from Justice Krishna Iyer, a former Supreme Court of India judge.

It also cites India's nonviolent heritage as expressed through Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, which "has stood for a culture of compassion for living creatures," in stating that even the "most foul" murderer should be given an opportunity to reform.

However, "the most valid" argument against capital punishment, according to the memorandum, is that people can be executed "in error."

In 2007, the Church prison ministry collected more than 150,000 signatures in support of its demand for abolition of death penalty and sent them to the Indian president.

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