Sikh American Groups Ask US and UN to stop India From Executing Bhullar
Amnesty International Also Raises Concerns
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2013 | 01:13 am
Devenderpal Singh Bhullar, a photo from before his arrest in 1995.
Photo Source: Unknown
Sikh advocacy groups are lobbying the US government and the United Nations to stop India from executing Devenderpal Singh Bhullar, whose conviction was based on a single coerced confession.
On April 12, about 18 years after his arrest, Devenderpal Singh lost his final legal battle to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.
“He is being punished twice for the same crime, said Sukhman Singh Dhami, co-director of Ensaaf, a California-based human rights group. He has already been imprisoned for life, which in India is 14 years, and he also will be executed.
On April 15, Ensaaf sent a letter to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the US Department of State, asking their assistance in halting the execution.
Ensaaf was joined by five other Sikh advocacy groups, including Jakara Movement, in California; the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in Washington; the Sikh Coalition, based in New York; the Sikh Research Institute, in Texas; United Sikhs, based in New York; and Voices for Freedom, based in New York.
Ensaaf advocates for the rights of thousands of Sikhs who disappeared in extra-judicial killings at the hands of the Punjab government during the late 1980s and 1990s, and does not generally get involved in current cases, Sukhman Singh said. But given the total lack of evidence, and a conviction that hinges on a single coerced confession, Devenderpal Singh’s execution would amount to judicial murder.
“There are a lot of groups and individuals reaching out to us,” Sukhman Singh said. “The government of India is likely hearing about this from a number of differ channels.”
The Indian Embassy in Washington did not respond to several requests from SikhNN for comment. But a spokeswoman for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom told SikhNN that Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett has been in contact with the Indian embassy and is “coordinating with the State Department to determine appropriate steps.”
On April 17, Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based human rights group, also wrote to the United Nations to stop India from carrying out the execution.
Sikhs For Justice was joined by the Canadian Sikh Coalition and the Movement Against Atrocities and Repression, a Swiss organization, in its appeal letter to Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture.
“The Bhullar case is being handled by political masters mostly,” said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor for Sikhs for Justice, in an email to SikhNN. “Since 2010 I (have been) in touch with family but none of them know about the legal issues.”
At the peak of the brutal government suppression of a Sikh self-determination movement in Punjab, Devenderpal Singh, a mechanical engineer and lecturer at Guru Nanak Engineering College, in Ludhiana, found himself wanted by the police, like thousands of other young Sikh men during that time, the Ensaaf letter says.
Punjab Police first came looking for him in 1991 for information about a friend. Subsequently, the police extra-judiciously killed Devenderpal Singh’s father, uncle and friend. The police then accused Devenderpal Singh of conspiring, in 1993, to bomb the Delhi office of the Youth Congress political party in which nine people were killed.
Claiming political asylum, Devenderpal Singh escaped to Germany, which then illegally deported him back to India in 1995. He was arrested at the New Delhi airport and charged under the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities act, a now defunct law that contained provisions that violate international human rights law, including the right to a fair trial, the use of secret witnesses and police-extracted confessions.
Devenderpal Singh was sentenced to death in 2001.
He was not provided a lawyer during his initial detention or trial. His guilty conviction was based on a single police-extracted confession, which he retracted because it was made under duress. Additionally, none of the prosecution’s 300 witnesses identified him during the trial.
Devenderpal Singh appealed to the Indian Supreme Court. In a 2002, two-to-one split decision, the court upheld his sentence. The dissenting judge, Chief Justice Manharlal Bhikhalal Shah, declared him not guilty because of the lack of evidence and because the dubious confession was not enough to impose a death sentence.
The other two judges said the non-unanimous sentence could be considered in the mercy petition process. But after eight years, in May 2011, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil rejected his mercy petition without asking for the report or opinion from the dissenting judge, Sikhs for Justice said.
Devenderpal Singh challenged the president’s decision before the Supreme Court, asking for commutation to life imprisonment. But on April 12, the court rejected his petition based on the "enormity of the crime.”
Ensaaf asked the US government to “call upon the government of India to revisit this case and release Mr. Bhullar, given the presence of reasonable doubt, which calls into question the legality of his prolonged detention and death sentence...
“According to the U.S. Department of State, India has failed to resolve significant human rights deficiencies relating to “police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape.” Bhullar’s is a case in point,” the Ensaaf letter says.
Nigel Rodely, the former UN rapporteur on torture, had condemned India’s TADA anti-terrorism law as “disturbing and completely unacceptable.” Devenderpal Singh’s conviction under TADA was based on torture, the Sikhs For Justice letter says.
The group also appealed to the UN to send a “fact finding” mission to India to investigate the torture perpetrated against him to extract the confession.
And, because Devenderpal Singh was deported from Germany to India in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits deportation of an individual to a country where he would tortured, he is now subject to international law, and not to Indian law alone, the Sikhs For Justice letter says.