Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World

In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics

Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us

Britain's Sikhs Campaign to Save Activist Bhullar From the Noose

According to the Sikh Human Rights Group (S.H.R.G.) in London, the only evidence against the "37 year old Prof." Bhullar is an alleged confession "on blank paper signed under torture and threat of death." The S.H.R.G. writes, "The presiding judge of the three-judge bench however acquitted the accused, finding that he was not guilty . . . and too much doubt remained on the authenticity of the alleged 'confession' to the police. However, in stark contrast, the other two judges convicted him arguing, extraordinarily that proof 'beyond reasonable doubt' should be a 'guideline, not a fetish.' And that procedure is only 'a handmaiden and not the mistress of law.' . . . He was also not convinced by the authenticity of the confession. Contrary to procedure, the confession was neither handwritten nor recorded but typed on a computer on which it was not saved! In violation of procedure, a magistrate did not have the confession statement when he asked Bhuller whether he had made a confession."

A.N.I., London, Jan. 15, 2003

An international campaign has been launched to save Sikh activist Davinderpal Singh Bhullar from the gallows. It began in London on Tuesday, with protest demonstrations by British Sikhs, and will now spread to Europe, America, Australia and the Far East, in an attempt to get governments to intercede with the Indian authorities on behalf of the condemned man. Bhullar, a Khalistan activist in the eighties [1980s], sought asylum in Germany in 1994. But before his appeal could be approved (which it eventually was), he was deported to India where he was accused of conspiracy to murder [Youth] Congress politician Maninder Singh Bitta in [a] 1993 [car bomb attack in New Delhi, India]. He was convicted in 2001, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction by a two-to-one majority in Apr. 2002 and the death sentence was confirmed last month.

Those campaigning on his behalf claim that he is innocent and that the conviction was based on a confession made to a police officer under torture. They note that not one of 133 witnesses called at his trial identified him. In particular they point out that the presiding judge at the Supreme Court, Justice M.B. Shah, acquitted Bhullar, saying that the conspiracy charge fell flat because none of the accused named in the confessional statement had been convicted or tried. They claim that this is the first time that the Indian Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence on a split judgment. Tuesday's protest in London consisted of demonstrations by Sikhs carrying banners and placards outside the German embassy and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (F.C.O.). The aim is to persuade member-governments of the European Union, where capital punishment is banned, to put diplomatic pressure on the Indian government to commute the death sentence.

Demonstration leaders were received by the German ambassador, who is said to have welcomed the protest because it was against the death penalty. He is quoted as saying: 'The German government does not believe in capital punishment. We have a good relationship with India and we will make this stand very clearly to the Indian authorities. We share your view that the death penalty is a violation of one of the most elementary human rights.' The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has told the Sikh leaders that it would decide on what action to take when Bhullar's lawyers had decided on their next move. A meeting with Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien is expected at that stage. Sikh protesters at the F.C.O. were joined by politicians from all the main parliamentary parties.

The campaign will now move to 25 targeted countries, with protests at the German embassy and the foreign office in each capital, and to the European Union headquarters in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The London based human rights group, Amnesty International, is also in touch with campaign organisers to discuss its approach. It is intended that the campaign will finally reach India. Several U.K. Sikh organisations have combined to launch the campaign, co-ordinated by the Sikh Secretariat, a body whose main function is to lobby the government on matters concerning the interests of British Sikhs. It claims to have no political agenda, although a senior member told A.N.I. that it believed that Sikhs have the right to press for autonomy in Punjab.