India delays appeals hearing for death row convicts


India’s Supreme Court said on Saturday that it will hear “in due course” an execution appeal that has been filed by four bandits convicted for setting off an explosion that killed 22 policemen a decade ago, a lawyer for the men said.

The court refused to take up the appeal on Saturday because it said it is not convinced that the execution of the men is imminent, Colin Gonsalves, senior advocate for the four men, said.

Earlier, there had been reports the four accomplices of slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan would be executed Sunday after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy plea.

“I hope their hanging does not take place tomorrow (Sunday) and that we are proved wrong, but we had information they would be hanged tomorrow and that is why we approached the Supreme Court,” Gonsalves said.

The Supreme Court said that the appeal will be heard in “due course,” with court officials saying that the hearing could take place as early as this week.

Prison officials at the jail in the southern state of Karnataka, where the four convicts are being held, said no preparations are under way for their hanging.

Local media reports said that jail authorities will need at least a day to prepare for the executions.

“No preparations are going on for the execution of the four convicts tomorrow (Sunday). We are awaiting instructions from higher authorities,” said a senior official at Belgaum jail, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The convicts’ lawyer said: “We are asking for their sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment because of the mental distress suffered by them while waiting eight years for a decision on their mercy plea.”

The four men were sentenced to death in 2004 for their role in a land mine explosion in Karnataka that killed 22 policemen and injured 11 others.

Veerappan, the leader of the gang who was accused of carrying out numerous abductions and of staging more than 100 murders, was shot dead during a police ambush in the jungle the same year after evading capture for decades.

Executions are only carried out for “the rarest of rare” cases in India.

But Mukherjee, who was recently elected president, has rejected a number of mercy pleas over the last few months, thereby ending an eight-year informal stay on executions.

Last weekend Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted of involvement in a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, was executed in New Delhi, and the event triggered angry protests in the disputed region of Indian-administered Kashmir.

And in the first execution in the country since 2004, Pakistani-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, was hanged last November.