| A file picture of Samira, the first wife of Abu Salem. (PTI)
London, Nov. 16: The man who appears to have put together the legal team defending Abu Salem is the young and apparently idealistic human rights lawyer Harjot Singh, who says he and the others are working pro bono ' for the public good, which should mean for free.
“Money is not the important thing,” said Singh, in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, pointing out that important principles of international law were involved in this high-profile case.
Singh, 27 (“I will be 28 on December 17”), added: “Abu Salem does not have that much resources.”
He had represented Salem when the Indian authorities sought to have him and his companion, Monica Bedi, extradited from Portugal.
“I submitted a 75-page document to the European Court of Human Rights,” explained Singh, who is familiar with the background to the case.
Singh, who was today in Birmingham where he is currently attached to a local firm of solicitors, has Indian legal qualifications. But he also qualified in July as a UK solicitor which allows him to work here. This is so recent that the Law Society could not find Singh on its list of qualified solicitors, but Singh said he had a certificate number.
The Salem case places great responsibility on a lawyer who is still so young. According to Singh’s CV, he was enrolled as a practising advocate by the Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh. He got his LLB (Honours) from Lucknow University in 2002.
“Please quote me on one thing which is that I have 100 per cent faith in the Indian judiciary which is completely impartial,” said Singh.
“My interest is to assist the courts in India to see that justice is done and to protect the interests of my client and ensure he receives a fair trial.”
Ensuring that Salem receives a “free trial” is one of the guarantees the Indian authorities had to give before the Portuguese constitutional court would agree to his extradition.
“My job is to investigate the guarantee and the warranty given by the Indian prosecuting authorities,” Singh said.
He drew attention to the undertaking which, he said, had been given by L.K. Advani as deputy Prime Minister. “He said that Abu Salem, if extradited and convicted in India, would not receive the death penalty. This was ratified by the Union cabinet.”
This guarantee would have to be honoured by successor governments, said Singh, who is expecting to leave for India shortly, possibly by this weekend. “I have to see that all warranties and guarantees are respected.”
He went on: “My interest in this is professional. I have appeared in India in a number of important cases such as reservation cases and human rights cases. I have represented Babloo Srivastava who was extradited from Singapore.”
Srivastava, another alleged mafia don, is still in prison. “But I managed to have a number of murder charges against him removed,” said Singh.
Since India has given guarantees to the European Court of Human Rights and to Portugal, it seems likely that senior foreign lawyers will be present when the Salem trial takes place.
In Britain, media coverage is restricted once a person is arrested or when an arrest is thought to be imminent.
“For the sake of future extradition hearings, it is important for India that Abu Salem’s trial is seen to be fair,” stressed Singh.