NEW DELHI: President Droupadi Murmu has rejected the mercy petition of Mohammed Arif alias Ashfaq, a Pakistani terrorist convicted in the Red Fort attack case that occurred nearly 24 years ago.
This marks the second mercy plea rejected by the President since assuming office on July 25, 2022. The Supreme Court had previously dismissed Arif’s review petition on November 3, 2022, affirming the death penalty awarded to him.
Despite the rejection of the mercy plea, legal experts believe that a death row convict can still approach the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, seeking commutation of the sentence on the grounds of prolonged delay. The mercy petition from Arif, received on May 15, was turned down on May 27, as per the President’s secretariat order of May 29.
The Supreme Court, while upholding the death sentence, noted the absence of mitigating circumstances in Arif’s favor and emphasized the direct threat posed by the attack on the Red Fort to the country’s unity, integrity, and sovereignty. The attack, which took place on December 22, 2000, involved intruders opening fire at the 7 Rajputana Rifles unit stationed within the Red Fort premises, resulting in the deaths of three Army personnel. Arif, a Pakistani national and a member of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was arrested by Delhi Police four days after the attack.
The trial court had found Arif guilty of conspiring with other militants to carry out the attack and sentenced him to death in October 2005. The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the decision in subsequent appeals. The trial court had stated that the conspiracy to attack the Red Fort was hatched at the house of two conspirators in Srinagar, where Arif had illegally entered in 1999 along with three other LeT militants, who were later killed in separate encounters.
Arif’s plea for mercy was rejected despite multiple legal challenges, including review and curative petitions, highlighting the severity of the crime and the threat it posed to national security. The Delhi High Court had confirmed the trial court’s decision in September 2007, and the Supreme Court had also sided with the order of awarding the death sentence in August 2011. Arif’s review petition was dismissed in August 2012, and a curative petition was rejected in January 2014.
Following a constitution bench judgment in September 2014, which concluded that in all cases where the death sentence was awarded by the high court, such matters should be listed before a bench of three judges, Arif had filed a petition seeking re-opening of the dismissal of the review petitions for an open court hearing. The apex court had rejected the review petition in its verdict delivered on November 3, 2022.
This decision by President Murmu follows her rejection of another mercy petition last year in a separate case, demonstrating a firm stance on cases involving heinous crimes.