In July of 2015, an accountant named Yakub Memon was executed in India. Nine years earlier, a special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) court had sentenced him to death for being the “driving force” behind the 1993 bombings in Bombay. More than 250 people were killed in those blasts, and over 700 injured. But Memon claimed no prior knowledge of the plot. He insisted that on March 12, the day of the attacks, he was visiting his relatives in Dubai; shortly thereafter, his eldest brother Tiger had summoned the entire family to Pakistan. Yakub didn’t know until after landing in Karachi on March 17 that Tiger and his associates had planned and executed the bombings that had terrorized Bombay five days before.
No independent evidence was ever furnished to refute Yakub’s claim. Instead, he was convicted on the basis of the statement of one “approver” (in Indian law, a person who confesses to a felony or to having a role in a crime and then gives evidence against his or her accomplices) and the signed confessions of five others who had also been accused—four of whom later recanted their testimony. The TADA court found Yakub guilty on several of the charges against him, including arranging for accomplices to travel to Pakistan for “weapons training.” Yakub maintained his innocence until the end, saying that the court never acknowledged that he, too, had turned “approver” by surrendering on July 24, 1994, in Kathmandu. The prosecution asserted that he’d been arrested at the railway station in New Delhi on August 5, 1994. Yakub denied this in a letter addressed to the chief justice of India. He wrote that he’d never seen the station in his life.
Throughout July, a number of lawyers and activists worked to secure Yakub a reprieve from the death penalty, or at the very least a postponement of his scheduled execution date, which happened to fall on his 53rd birthday. Memon had been in prison for 21 years. He had not spent a single day with his daughter on parole: He had been arrested when she was five days old. He had cooperated with the investigation wholeheartedly during his imprisonment, having returned from Karachi with tapes that suggested the complicity of Pakistani intelligence in the blasts. Even assuming his own complicity and the fairness of the procedures that culminated in Memon’s arrest and trial, his role seemed to fall well short of a provision created by the Supreme Court of India in 1980, which stipulates that the death penalty may be imposed only in the “rarest of rare cases.” The death sentences of those who’d been found guilty of planting the bombs had been commuted to life imprisonment—and none of the other defendants convicted on the same charges as Yakub had been sentenced to death. His brother had warned him about the futility of any homecoming, but Yakub, as he wrote in his letter to the chief justice, had hoped to “wipe out the stigma attached to our names.” Precedent allows for 14 days to pass between the date of the rejection of a plea for mercy and the date of execution. The Indian president rejected Yakub’s petition on Wednesday, July 29, and the Supreme Court of India convened in New Delhi at 2:30 am the next day—to decide whether the execution should be deferred for 14 days. Four hours later, far away from New Delhi in Nagpur Central Jail, Yakub Memon was hanged to death.