India is a death penalty country again

As recently as March, 2012, it seemed like the death penalty might be a thing of the past in India. The country is one of just a handful of large democracies in the world -- along with the United States, Taiwan, and Japan -- that still use capital punishment. (It's still legal in South Korea but no executions have been carried out since the late 1990s.)

According to a 1983 court ruling, execution can only be used in the "rarest of rare cases". Between 1995 and last year, India executed just two people -- a serial killer and a rapist/murderer. Last March, a court put on hold the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a Sikh militant convicted for the 1995 assassination of the Punjab State Minister.

Then, last November, the lone surviving Mumbai attack gunman, Amjal Kasab was executed swiftly and in secret, without any warning given to his family or attorney, a surprise to many in a country where the gears of justice usually turn pretty slowly. Amnesty International criticized the move, saying it "undoes much of the progress India has made over the death penalty."

Now, Indian prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty for the five men accused of raping and killing a woman on a New Delhi bus -- a case that has sparked protests throughout the country. Rape cases often linger in the Indian court system for years, so a special fast-track court has been set up for this case, following the widespread outrage.

It's certainly hard to argue that such a heinous crime shouldn't qualify under the Indian legal system's "rarest of rare" standard -- presumably this is exactly the sort of case the justices had in mind. But it appears that as long as there are angry people in the streets, the world's largest democracy is in no hurry to do away with the death penalty. 


Why is Gerard Depardieu becoming Russian?

It's a little hard to believe now, but during the 1990s, Gerard Depardieu was probably France's biggest international star, representing a quintessentially French archetype for moviegoers around the world. But the legion d'honneur winner and Oscar nominee's legacy in his home country is a bit more complicated now after he announced he was renouncing his French citizenship and has now -- apparently -- been granted a Russian passport by order of Vladimir Putin himself. 

In the last month, Depardieu has become the public face of France's tax exiles, wealthy citizens who have moved to places like Brussels and Switzerland to flee the steep taxe rates -- up to 75 percent -- that President Francois Hollande is looking those with an income of more than more than €1 million. (In an FP piece last August, former governor Haley Barbour suggested Mississippi as a destination for France disaffected 1 percenters. Strangely, Depardieu doesn't seem to have considered the Hospitality State.)

Depardieu decided to take the extra step of giving up his French passport last month after Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called his decision to relocate to Belgium "shabby" and not "patriotic." During a televised press conference a few weeks ago, Putin -- seemingly joking -- suggested that Russia's arms would be open to Depardieu and the French actor apparently took him up on the offer:

[O]n Thursday, the Kremlin announced that Mr. Putin had kept his promise and had signed a decree making Mr. Depardieu a citizen of Russia.

A spokesman for Mr. Putin, Dmitri Peskov, said that Mr. Depardieu had recently applied for citizenship, and that it was granted in honor of his cultural achievements.

“The thing is that Depardieu has been a part of large film projects and has acted many parts, including the part of Rasputin,” Mr. Peskov told the Interfax news agency. Referring to a television movie about the mad monk, he added, “This film has not been shown here, but it is a very bold and innovative interpretation of the character.”

Depardieu is likely attracted by Russia's 13 percent income tax. There are places in the world with even lower rates -- some Gulf States and Carribean Islands have no income tax at all -- but they presumably wouldn't be as enthusiastic about making him a citizen. (Given the number of Russian billionaires who have fled the country since Putin came to power, he must relish the opportunity to claim a few well-heeled refugees from Western Europe.) The actor hasn't decided for sure on moving to Russia -- he's reportedly also considering staying in Belgium or moving to Montenegro.

Depardieu also likely has few objections to Putin's human rights record, as he has also appeared at the birthday of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and has agreed to star in a movie written by Gulnara Karimova -- the president of Uzbekistan's socialite daughter. Given Depardieu's recent citizenship troubles, a post-Soviet remake of Green Card might be timely.