Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 13:29 UK

Top Indian court upholds hangings

Hangman Nata Mullick
There has been just one execution in India in the past 10 years

India's Supreme Court has rejected a petition to replace hanging with lethal injection as the country's sole method of execution.

The court said there was no evidence to suggest that hanging was less painful.

Activist Ashok Kumar Walia had argued that hanging was a "cruel and painful" method of execution and should be replaced by lethal injection.

Indian authorities say the death penalty is rarely carried out and is usually reserved for serious cases.

There has been just one execution - in 2004 - in India in the past 10 years.

"How do you know that hanging causes pain? And how do you know that injecting the condemned prisoner with a lethal drug would not cause pain?" Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan was quoted by the Times of India newspaper as saying.

Justice Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam said that experts believe that hanging - meant to dislocate the neck and sever the spinal cord - caused instant death.

"Many countries, still practising death penalty, have various methods of execution - death squad which guns down a condemned prisoner from close range, hanging by the neck, electric chair and by injecting a lethal drug.

"In India, we have a very, very liberal sentencing system based on a humane law. The courts in the rarest of the rare cases award death sentence," the newspaper quoted the judges as saying.

Only in the most horrific or politically sensitive cases is the death penalty awarded.

The court suggested that Mr Walia should campaign for the outright abolition of capital punishment in India.

A 1983 ruling by the Supreme Court stated that the death penalty should be imposed only in "the rarest of rare cases".

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