Many lawyers in India are refusing to represent the sole gunman captured in last month's terrorist attacks that killed more than 170 people in Mumbai. The controversy is making it difficult to extend legal aid to the accused man.
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Qasab is one of 10 suspected terrorists who staged a 60-hour siege on luxury hotels, a restaurant and other sites across the city of Mumbai that killed and injured hundreds of people last month. Nine were killed, but Qasab was captured
He is in police custody in Mumbai, and has yet to be formally charged in court. Police say he is being held for offenses such as waging war on the country and murder.
Patriotism cited as one reason for refusal to represent attacker
But Indian authorities, who say Qasab is a Pakistani national, are finding it difficult to get legal representation for him.
The problems began after a prominent association of lawyers in Mumbai with 1,000 members refused to defend him. Rohini Wagh, the President of the Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrate Court's Bar Association, has told reporters he is not the same as other criminals, but a man who had attacked "our city and our country."
"This terror attack, it is not only on humanity, but our country also," explained Wagh. "So while considering his right, we have to consider the right of our citizen, because he has taken away the right of those whose fundamental right it was to live."
Citizens protest against lawyers considering taking case
Two lawyers who indicated that they might take up his case retracted after a Mumbai-based regional party, the right wing Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena, staged protest demonstrations in front of their homes.
The refusal by prominent Mumbai lawyers to defend Qasab has generated a controversy. Under Indian law, it is a constitutional right of any accused to get legal aid if he has committed a crime on Indian soil.
Some prominent lawyers say he must be given legal help. A New Delhi based lawyer, Indu Jalani, says the refusal by lawyers to defend him is "an emotional decision". She says those who trust the country's legal system should not hesitate to offer legal help.
"If you have faith in your system you should give rights to everyone. I think he should be given a lawyer to represent his case," said Jalani. "If there is no loophole in your system, he won't get away."
Islamabad has not confirmed attacker is Pakistani citizen
This is not the first time that lawyers in India have refused to defend a terror suspect. Following a series of bomb attacks on courts in different cities in 2005 and 2007, a local bar association in Uttar Pradesh state refused to defend the accused.
Indian authorities have not commented on the controversy. But police say the accused man has written a letter to the Pakistani consulate to request legal aid. Islamabad has not confirmed that he is a Pakistani citizen, saying India has not furnished any evidence.