India frees 2 death row Muslims in 1996 blast case

An Indian court on Thursday acquitted two Kashmiri Muslims sentenced to death for a 1996 car bomb attack in a New Delhi shopping arcade that killed 13 people.

The two men, Mirza Nissar Hussain and Ali Bhat, were handed death sentences by a lower court in 2010 but the Delhi High Court set them free and slammed police for a poor investigation into the bomb attack.

The judges commuted the death penalty of a third man convicted in the case to a life sentence, Press Trust of India reported.

The police failed to adhere to a "minimum standard" in probing the blast that ripped through the Lajpat Nagar shopping area, judges Ravindra Bhat and G.P. Mittal said in overturning the death sentences.

"A test identification parade was not conducted and statements of vital witnesses were not recorded," the judges added.

Police had accused Hussain and Bhat of belonging to the outlawed Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front.

The overturning of the death sentences came a day after India executed the sole surviving Islamist gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.

India says it imposes capital punishment in only the "rarest of rare" cases.

No doubts had been expressed in India about the guilt of Pakistani-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 25, who was captured on camera wielding an automatic weapon.

But opponents of India's death penalty say convictions of many others on death row involve much less certain evidence.

In July, 14 retired Supreme Court and High Court judges asked President Pranab Mukherjee to commute the death sentences of 13 inmates that they said had been "erroneously upheld" by the Supreme Court over the past nine years.

After Kasab's hanging, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government to reinstate its "unofficial" eight-year moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

India earlier this week voted against a UN resolution to end the death penalty.

 

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