Kasab's hanging: facts missed, misreported

IN Media Practice | 24/11/2012
The media have failed to either question or to create a debate on why the entire operation was a closely guarded secret.
The Home Minister’s action will expose the government to embarrassing criticism, says MADABHUSHI SRIDHAR.

It is quite clear that Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has conducted Operation ‘X’ in great secrecy mainly to avoid the wide range of debate and discussions in the media, partly owing to security reasons and indirectly to deny the convict a right to approach higher judiciary to stall the execution temporarily. Besides the unusual speed in execution there is also inexplicable secrecy at every stage. Why did the Centre fear discussion if it believed strongly that Ajmal Kasab had to be executed for his ghastly crime, which is quite a legal and constitutionally valid exercise of an executive head of a country which is victim of cross-border terrorism, especially imported from Pakistan? 

Media, especially Telugu TV channels in Andhra Pradesh, in their debate all through the day of Kasab’s execution missed the point of transparency and instead, were lauding the successful conduct of Operation ‘X’. Most TV shows and newspapers did not question the secrecy even when the Right to Information Act 2005,  imposed a statutory duty on public authority such as the President and Home Minister to give reasons for the decision to reject a mercy petition.  In fact, no one questioned why the mercy petition was rejected. Another major point that the media missed (except one or two newspapers) is that the secret action resulted in denial of right to challenge the rejection of mercy by the President under general  review power of Judiciary which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It is clear violation of fundamental right to live under Article 21, which says that his personal liberty or life cannot be deprived except in accordance with established procedure of law.

Ajmal Kasab was given all opportunities as established under law until the mercy petition, but one last chance of seeking review of decision on mercy petition was denied to him and that amounts to violation of Article 21 and thus breach of human rights.

The Government of India is answerable to the world and international human rights organisations on this question. The media should have brought this point to the center-stage. Most of the focus was on terrorism, retention or abolition of death penalty, indecision on Afzal Guru and so on.  

Although generally the President is expected to act according to the advice of the Council of Ministers in exercise of all his top executive powers, regarding pardoning powers under Article 72, the President has to act on the advice of the Union Home Minister. It is reported that Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde, claimed “it is my nature that I maintain secrecy on such things. I am trained to be a police man”. The Home Minister should act at an altitude above that of a constable. Alas, he does not know! He has a constitutional responsibility of explaining to the nation the reasons for his secrecy besides reasons for advising the President to reject the mercy petition.

Government vulnerable

It is also reported in some media that his cabinet colleagues including the Prime Minister and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi also did not have any hint of Kasab’s execution. The Home Minister’s statement of November 21 that “they would have got to know from television when channels started reporting this morning” confirms the position that he did not share this vital information with his colleagues. Without showing collective responsibility, the Home minister lost the chance of securing advice from legal experts and also made the entire government and the President vulnerable to the criticism on this score.

Ajmal Kasab was informed about his execution on November 12, but he was not told that his mercy petition had been rejected. One may argue that it was obvious that his execution would be scheduled only after the rejection. The question is whether he was informed about his right to seek further judicial review. Obviously he wasn’t. 

It is also not clear why the media did not generate any protest against the “‘secrecy” of the operation or convened debates on lack of transparency on such a vital matter of international importance.

Misreporting was also abundant regarding the last few hours of Ajmal Kasab’s life. While Praveen Swami reported in The Hindu that Ajmal Kasab had not shown any visible emotion and maintained complete silence as he was taken to the gallows, most other newspapers and TV channels said that he had sought god’s forgiveness and had said that such an offence he would not commit again.

The English daily, Hans India from Hyderabad reported that Kasab had said, “I swear by god, won’t do such a thing again (Allah kasam dubara aisi galti nahi karunga)” and his last wish was to “inform Ammi (mother)”. These statements were sub-headings on front page, but nothing about them could be found in the body of the story. Telugu daily Namaste Telangana said in its headlines on first page: His last wish: nothing; last words: “Allah kasam dubara aisi galti nahi karunga”, without mentioning the source of information. The same newspaper stated that he was silent all through, quoting a Jail official. TV channels repeatedly mentioned his “last wish and last words”.

Pravin Swami quoted a police officer who was present at the Yerwada Jail during the execution saying that Ajmal Kasab “didn’t shout or struggle and the end came quickly…. I have seen lots of colourful stories in the media today (on Wednesday) about his remembering his mother and praying for forgiveness”. The official also added… ‘I wish they were true, because we Indians love a good tearjerker, but the fact is he didn’t say one single word”’.

(The writer is Professor and Coordinator, Centre for Media Law and Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.)

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