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regular-article-logo Monday, 17 June 2024

Arrested in Czech Republic, US 'hit job' suspect knocks on Supreme Court door

The Supreme Court on Friday shed its initial reluctance and agreed to hear the petitioner, who has alleged violation of his human rights and religious beliefs in Czech confinement

R. Balaji New Delhi Published 16.12.23, 06:03 AM
Supreme Court of India.

Supreme Court of India. File Photo.

An Indian arrested in the Czech Republic has petitioned the Supreme Court to order the Centre to provide him consular access and legal assistance to fight his extradition to the US, describing himself as a "hapless victim" caught in a "diplomatic and political quagmire between India and the United States".

The petition does not give his name but says that since November 29, documents emanating from the US District Court, Southern District, New York, “shifts the narrative away from the petitioner and implicates an alleged Indian government employee, referred to as ‘CC-1’”.

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The US Justice Department had last month brought murder-for-hire charges against Nikhil Gupta, and said he was recruited by an "Indian government agent CC-1" to assassinate Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Arrested in the Czech Republic, Gupta is awaiting extradition.

The Supreme Court on Friday shed its initial reluctance and agreed to hear the petitioner, who has alleged violation of his human rights and religious beliefs in Czech confinement.

Initially, the bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice S.V.N. Bhatti felt the issue was “extremely sensitive” even for the Union government and asked the petitioner to approach a Czech court.

However, it later decided to hear the matter on January 4, after the winter recess, keeping the unusual case alive.

Claiming to be a “middle-class businessman”, the petitioner says he was visiting the Czech Republic for leisure and business exploration when he was detained illegally on June 30 at Prague airport and later arrested.

His petition says he has been in solitary confinement for over 100 days during which he has been forced to eat beef and pork despite being a “devout Hindu and vegetarian”. He does not say what the charges against him were.

He, however, adds that since November 29, documents emanating from the US District Court, Southern District, New York “shifts the narrative away from the petitioner and implicates an alleged Indian government employee, referred to as ‘CC-1’”.

“(This) marks a significant departure from the initial charges and transforms the case into a diplomatic and political quagmire between India and the United States. The petitioner positions himself as a hapless victim caught in the crossfire, urging the court’s intervention to navigate this intricate web of international relations and secure his rights,” the petition says.

The Indian national’s family members filed the petition on his behalf, through advocate Rohini Musa, under Article 32 for enforcement of his fundamental rights.

“Mr Sundaram, this is an extremely sensitive matter for the ministry of external affairs or, for that matter, any ministry of the government,” the bench told senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, who was representing the petitioner.

“If there is violation of any law taking place, if you feel your (petitioner’s) rights have been breached, you have to go to the court concerned there.”

Sundaram pleaded that the petitioner was not averse to approaching a Czech court -- he was only pressing for consular assistance. He said there was a convention that whenever any Indian citizen was held in a foreign country, the external affairs ministry assisted the person and provided consular access. But no such assistance had been provided to the petitioner, he added.

He suggested that if necessary, the matter could be heard in the judges’ chambers.

The bench noted that the petitioner had earlier approached Delhi High Court, which had declined relief. It said it needed time to go through the file and adjourned the matter till January 4.

The petitioner has claimed an immediate threat to his life in view of the “alleged victim’s notorious status as a declared terrorist in India”.

He says his detention and arrest were marked by irregularities. No formal arrest warrant was presented, all because “self-claimed US agents rather than local Czech authorities” had raised apprehensions.

He found himself in the custody of people purporting to represent US interests, it adds. “…He was denied consular access, the right to contact his family in India, and the freedom to seek legal representation,” the petition says.

It claims the petitioner’s family, which is “from a humble background, has exhausted their (sic) life savings in the pursuit of legal battles across three jurisdictions -- Czech Republic, the United States, and India”.

“…The political nature of the case precludes extradition, and the ongoing proceedings violate Article 7 of the US-Czech Republic Extradition Treaty, which mandates the release of a provisionally arrested person within two months unless a formal requisition for surrender is made,” the petition adds.

It invokes Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which safeguards individuals against arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence and protects them against attacks on their honour and reputation.

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