Sunday, 21 February 2016

Why using the academic term "judicial killing" to describe the death penalty cannot amount to Contempt of Court - #JNU

A lawyer has filed a petition before the Supreme Court of India requesting that the Court initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against JNU students including Kanhaiya Kumar for organizing an event to mark what was described in pamphlets as the "judicial killing" of Afzal Guru. 


This petition claims that "The so-called cultural event's pamphlets spoke about the judicial killing of Afzal Guru. The main topic of the 'cultural event' organised was judicial killing of Afzal Guru which outright tantamount to criminal contempt as the respondents are calling the judges of the apex court as killers who have been projected to have committed judicial killing of Afzal Guru" and that "Afzal and Yakub Memon were no martyrs as projected by the group of students of JNU. The Supreme Court has already passed a detailed judgement in both cases after giving due consideration as per law after going through the evidence,"

The Supreme Court of India ought to outright dismiss this misconceived and obviously motivated petition which has most likely been filed at the behest of the BJP Government, the RSS and the Delhi Police. 

The phrase "judicial killing" is widely used and established terminology to descriptively refer to the death penalty or capital punishment in academic and activist literature and in media discussions and reports. 

The use of the term "judicial killing" by JNU students in describing Afzal Guru's execution was therefore only an instance of this established and common usage of this term. JNU students are likely to have read academic and activist literature where this term would be found. It is therefore not a case where such usage should be penalized as contempt of court. 

Reproduced below are just a few examples of where and how the term "judicial killing" is used in academic and activist literature and in media discussions and reports. 

The Next Frontier : National Development, Political Change, and the Death Penalty in Asia: National Development, Political Change, and the Death Penalty in Asia, Manoa David T Johnson Professor of Sociology University of Hawaii, Berkeley Franklin E Zimring William G. Simon Professor of Law and Wolfen Distinguished Scholar University of California
Oxford University Press, USA, 29-Dec-2008 
Appendix G of this book refers to judicial killing and extra-judicial killing

When the State No Longer Kills: International Human Rights Norms and Abolition of Capital Punishment, Sangmin Bae
SUNY Press, 05-Jun-2008
The phrase judicial killing is used at page 92 of this book

Death Penalty: A Cruel and Inhuman Punishment, Luis Arroyo Zapatero, William Schabas, Kanako Takayama, Marta Muñoz de Morales, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, uclm Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla La Mancha, 20-Jan-2015
The phrase judicial killing is used on page 113 of this book.

According to an India Today news report Former Supreme Court judge K.T. Thomas criticized the death sentence as "judicial murder". 

A Guardian editorial dated 24 August 2010 was titled "Death penalty: judicial killing in the free world" see

Policing the State, Second Edition: Democratic Reflections on Police Power Gone Awry, in Memory of Kathryn Johnston (1914-2006), Louis A. Ruprecht, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 22-Oct-2015 
This book uses the term judicial killing.

State Killing in Asia: On the Relationship between Judicial and Extra-Judicial Executions, David T. Johnson, Professor of Sociology, University of Hawaii,, Inaugural Conference of the Law and Social Sciences Research Network, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal University, New Delhi, January 8-11, 2009
Panel 4.3, “Law’s Violence”, Saturday January 10, 2009, 11:45-13:00

The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective, Roger G. Hood, Carolyn Hoyle, Oxford University Press, 2015
This leading authority on the death penalty now in its fifth edition uses the term judicial killing.

This Amnesty UK blog uses the term judicial killing

The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions About Creation and the Flood, Ronald Youngblood
Wipf and Stock Publishers, 21-Dec-1999 
This book uses the term judicial killing. 

Women and Capital Punishment in the United States: An Analytical History, David V. Baker McFarland, 23-Nov-2015 
This book uses the term judicial killing. 

An article by former police officer R K Raghavan published in the Hindu used the term judicial killing. See

Literature published by the ACADP, the Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty uses the phrase judicial killing.

The phrase judicial killing was used as early as 1890 in Pentecost, Hugh O. (Hugh Owen), 1848-1907, “The Crime of Capital Punishment,” The Libertarian Labyrinth, accessed February 20, 2016,

The academic paper Billy Budd and Capital Punishment: A Tale of Three Centuries by H. Bruce Franklin, AMERICAN LITERATURE, June 1997 uses the term judicial killing.

2007 Article titled - Japan’s way of judicial killing - published in the Japan Times at

Article titled - The death of Ronald Ryan - in the Australian newspaper the Age used the words judicial killing

Article titled - The Murderers of Dhananjoy Hazir Ho! Abolish Death Penalty - on the website of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights uses the words judicial killing.

The Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General presented to the UN Human Rights Council, Thirtieth session used the words judicial killing. 

A 2006 Financial Times article titled - China finds it is time to reflect on its judicial killing fields - at

A Sydney Morning Herald editorial titled - Opposition to the death penalty is a moral absolute - used the words judicial killing

The list is endless. Judicial killing is a common and established term used to refer to the death penalty in academia, in activist literature, in human rights literature, in news articles and in any discussion of capital punishment. The use of this term by JNU students to refer to the execution of Afzal Guru was not contempt of court. 

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