Thousands back Amnesty's anti-death penalty drive

New Delhi, Sep 20 (IANS) More than 65,000 people have supported an Amnesty International India campaign seeking abolition of the death penalty in India.

G. Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty India, delivered the campaign petition with all signatures to V. Narayanasamy, the minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, on Wednesday.

"This campaign shows that there are thousands in this country who believe that the use of death penalty is arbitrary, flawed and biased," said Ananthapadmanabhan. The campaign was launched in April.

"There is no evidence to prove that the death penalty is a particular deterrent to crime. It is indeed the government's responsibility to ensure public safety and address rising crime," he said.

"But this will require sustained commitment and action from the police and the judiciary to ensure that the justice system responds promptly and effectively at every level," he added.

For years, the death penalty has been awarded in India in ways the Supreme Court has described as inconsistent, subjective and judge-centric.

Convicts who commit similar crimes are given the death penalty by some judges and life imprisonment by other judges.

The Supreme Court has also pointed out that courts have made mistakes in using the 'rarest-of-rare' test to determine if the death sentence should be given.

"The use of the death penalty has a class bias and discriminates against powerless people in our society. The poorer a person is, the more likely he is to be sentenced to death," said Ananthapadmanabhan.

Since assuming office in 2012, President Pranab Mukherjee has rejected the mercy petitions of at least 20 people. At least 23 people are now at risk of execution.

Amnesty International India urges the government to take immediate steps to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment and impose a moratorium on executions as a step towards abolishing the death penalty.