Believe it or not, I was going to post a local article about Kayem's sale of sodium thiopental to the US last week and it slipped my mind. Now it looks like the newspapers have done their job, because according to the Atlantic the company is stopping sales of the death penalty drug to US states following the managing director's discovery of what they were using it for.

The company's decision was a major victory for opponents of the death penalty in the U.S., who had lobbied the company and Indian authorities, said the magazine. It leaves capital-punishment states and the federal government with no immediate supplier of the drug, sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, wrote Raymond Bonner.

The article quotes Kayem MD Navneet Verma as saying that the company had unwittingly sold the drug to Nebraska and South Dakota, and had been approached by 13 other states to buy it before he learned through a letter from an anti-death penalty advocate what it was to be used for. However, the company's new official position came only after Indian newspapers reported the details of the sale to Nebraska and South Dakota.

"In view of the sensitivity involved with sale of our Thiopental Sodium to various Jails/Prisons in USA and as alleged to be used for the purpose of Lethal Injection, we voluntary declare that we as Indian Pharma Dealer who cherish the Ethos of Hinduism ( A believer even in non-livings as the creation of God) refrain ourselves in selling this drug where the purpose is purely for Lethal Injection and its misuse," the company said on its web site.

There's no market for thiopental sodium in India--at least for executions. But not because the country has abolished the death penalty. Here, they do it by hanging.

Cherishing the "ethos of HInduism," India sentenced 11 out of 31 Muslims convicted in the burning of a train in Gujarat to death last month, dispensing rough justice for what the court viewed as a conspiracy to inflame religious passions by killing Hindus.  (If so, it worked -- the Gujarat riots, sometimes called a pogrom against Muslims, followed immediately after).

Though India doesn't disclose how many people it has executed or how many convicted criminals are waiting on death row, such sentences are relatively common, even though the penalty is imposed only in cases deemed "the rarest of the rare." A somewhat dated report from Amnesty International has this to say on the subject:

"According to the latest official figures, there were 273 persons under sentence of death as of 31 December 2005. However, the National Crime Records Bureau, which publishes these figures, does not distinguish between condemned prisoners whose sentences have been passed by a trial court, those whose sentences have been upheld by a High Court or the Supreme Court, and those whose mercy petitions are pending or have been rejected by the executive.

Amnesty International believes this figure to be a gross underestimate. At least 140 people are believed to have been sentenced to death in 2006 and 2007. Some 44 persons are currently known to be on death row awaiting a decision on their mercy petitions by the President of India (the last possible recourse). The execution of some of these prisoners may be imminent."


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