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regular-article-logo Thursday, 30 May 2024

Supreme Court to hear plea of Indian detained in Czech Republic for foiled plot to kill Sikh separatist in US

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and S V N Bhatti described the matter as an "extremely sensitive issue for the Ministry of External Affairs"

PTI New Delhi Published 15.12.23, 08:38 PM
Supreme Court

Supreme Court File photo

The Supreme Court on Friday deferred the hearing for January 4, 2024 on a habeas corpus plea moved by a family member of Indian national Nikhil Gupta, who has been accused of plotting an assassination attempt on Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil.

Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30. He has alleged grave human rights violations in solitary confinement, including being forced to consume beef and pork. He has also alleged that he was denied consular access, the right to contact his family in India and the freedom to seek legal representation.

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A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and S V N Bhatti described the matter as an "extremely sensitive issue for the Ministry of External Affairs" and told senior advocate C A Sundaram, representing Gupta, to approach a court in the Czech Republic, where his client is lodged in a jail.

Sundaram told the bench that he is not pressing his habeas corpus prayer at this stage, but only seeking consular access and a direction to the Indian envoy in the European country to find out about the status of the case as his client is not being told anything.

The bench asked the senior lawyer about the person who has filed the petition in the apex court, to which Sundaram said on behalf of Gupta, one of his family members has moved the plea in the capacity of the "next friend" of the detenu.

Justice Khanna said since he got the case file late, he was not able to go through it.

"We will take up the matter on January 4, after the winter break," he said.

Sundaram requested that the matter be taken up in-camera as several sensitive issues are involved.

"We will see that on January 4," Justice Khanna said and allowed Sundaram to serve a copy of the case file to Attorney General R Venkataramani.

On November 29, Gupta was charged by federal prosecutors in the United States in connection with his alleged participation in a foiled plot to assassinate Pannun on American soil.

The 52-year-old was charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of a 10-year jail term.

US authorities had said Gupta agreed to pay an assassin USD 100,000 to kill the Sikh separatist leader living in New York City.

The prosecutors had said Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the US and the Czech Republic.

Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the US in connection with his alleged participation in the plot to kill Pannun.

The plea filed in the apex court through advocate Rohini Musa says it seeks the court's urgent intervention in the matter of the illegal arrest and ongoing extradition proceedings against Gupta, a law-abiding Indian citizen, in the Republic of Czech.

"The petitioner, an Indian citizen hailing from a humble background, urgently approaches the Supreme Court of India seeking relief in a matter fraught with complexities. The genesis of the petitioner's predicament dates back to June 30, 2023, when he was illegally detained at Prague Airport in the Czech Republic," the plea has said.

Gupta has alleged that the circumstances surrounding his arrest were marked by irregularities, with no formal arrest warrant presented.

Alleging grave human rights violations in solitary confinement, Gupta has narrated his ordeal and claimed that he was not shown any arrest warrant during the initial detention.

"Instead, he found himself in the custody of individuals purporting to represent US interests. The petitioner, a devout Hindu and vegetarian, claims that he was subjected to forced consumption of beef and pork during his detention in Czech custody, a direct violation of his religious beliefs. Moreover, he alleges that he was denied consular access, the right to contact his family in India, and the freedom to seek legal representation," the plea says.

Gupta has contended that the charges against him, coupled with media coverage, have tarnished his reputation and subjected him to undue interference.

"The petitioner contends that since June 30, 2023, he has been in illegal custody of the Czech authorities, facing an alleged political vendetta between the US and Indian governments. He argues that the extradition proceedings initiated in Prague have been marred by procedural failures, highlighting the absence of an arrest warrant, lack of fair representation and denial of basic rights, rendering the trial anything but fair," the petition says.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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