Women activists call ‘unfortunate’, ‘bizarre’, ‘shocking’ release of Jessica Lal murder case convict

New Delhi, Jun 2 (PTI) Women rights activists called 'unfortunate' the decision to prematurely release Jessica Lal murder case convict Manu Sharma, saying it sets a wrong precedent.

Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal approved the premature release of Sharma, who is serving a life sentence in the case, according to an official order.

The Delhi Sentence Review Board (SRB) which comes under the Delhi government had recommended Sharma's release from the Tihar Jail last month. Activist-politician Brinda Karat said there is absolutely no ground for giving Sharma a lenient release and that it is surprising that a board headed by a Delhi minister should come forth with such a recommendation.

'On what basis did the Delhi Sentence Review Board take a decision to recommend a criminal, who is convicted of the murder of a young woman, to be released three years earlier? It sets a very wrong precedent,' she said.

'Good behaviour is subjective… When somebody is convicted, unless he is proved to be not guilty, but he is proven guilty. He has a 20-year sentence… he should complete those 20 years and particularly in such a case in which a young girl was so brutally murdered. So it sets a wrong precedent,' Karat added.

Women rights activist Shamina Shafiq said the decision to release Sharma is 'shocking” and “bizarre'.

'Already the country has been dealing with so much as far as crime against women is concerned. For ‘Nirbhaya’, it took so many years of turmoil to get justice for the family. Now, we see one more person walking scot-free and in the name of what? In the pretext of what?' she said.

'I hope better sense prevails and the government thinks about giving stringent punishment and send a strong message to society instead of actually going so soft on the criminals, especially those with serious charges. It is not something to rejoice… it is something to really think and ponder as to whether the government is actually serious about ‘Beti Bachao’ or is it only sloganeering,' Shafiq, a former member of the National Commission for Women, said.

Chhavi Methi from the Bharatiya Samajik Jagritik Sanghatan called the development 'unfortunate'.

'The decision is unfortunate. It is very subjective what good behaviour is and what work he has actually done to show ‘good behaviour’. It should not be a ground for basing early release,' she noted.

Yogita Bhayana, who heads the People Against Rape in India (PARI), however, said Sharma should be given the 'benefit of doubt'.

'… if he has reformed and if he is going early because of his good behaviour, it should be fine. I heard his stories about regret. What happened is unfortunate, but if he regrets it, then he should be given the benefit of doubt. And it isn't that he is coming out very early, he is coming out two-three years early. A murderer can be reformed not a rapist,' she said.

PARI seeks to support rape survivors and help them in their fight for justice. Manu Sharma, son of former Union minister Venod Sharma, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court in December 2006 for killing Jessica Lal in 1999.

A trial court had acquitted him, but the high court reversed the order. The Supreme Court later upheld his life sentence in April 2010.

Lal was shot dead by Sharma after she refused to serve him liquor at the Tamarind Court restaurant owned by socialite Bina Ramani at Qutub Colonnade in south Delhi's Mehrauli area on the night of April 30, 1999.