Bhai Devinderpal Singh Bhullar

Born in Punjab in 1965 to civil servant parents Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar became a Professor of Engineering at Ludhiana University. He is now a convict on death row in India. He was declared guilty of killing nine bystanders in a 1993 car bombing intended to kill Indian Congress politician Maninderjeet Singh Bitta, and sentenced to death by hanging by split decision, which has created a lot of controversy among judicial and human rights circles. Amnesty International have stated that Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar's hanging would be hugely disappointing, and would be a step backwards for human rights in the country. There has been immense pressure on the Indian Government to acquit Bhullar of lack of evidence however this has fallen upon deaf ears.

Crime

On 11 September 1993, a car bomb exploded outside the offices of the Indian Youth Congress on Raisina Road in New Delhi, killing nine people. The remote-controlled bomb used RDX as explosive. The primary target for the mid-day bombing was identified as Maninder Singh Bitta, a vocal critic of Khalistani separatists, who was leaving the Youth Congress offices in his car. Bitta survived the attack with shrapnel wounds to his chest. However, two of Bitta's body guards were killed.

After investigation, authorities named Bhullar as the bomber responsible for the 1993 Raisina Road car bomb. It is thought that Bhullar was targeted solely for speaking out against injustices that were occurring in Punjab during the 1980s/90s, in particular his 40 missing students by Police Encounters, Operation Woodrose, and Anti-Sikh riots. It has been claimed that he was part of Khalistan Liberation Force however no evidence has been presented for this, infact those closest to him refute this claim.

The two judges who upheld the death sentence have found his confession admissible. The presiding judge of the three-judge bench however acquitted the accused, finding that he was not guilty of participating in the 1993 car bomb attack in New Delhi targeting the then Youth Congress leader M S Bitta and too much doubt remained on the authenticity of the alleged 'confession' to the Punjab 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". Bhullar was named responsible based on a confession statement written by Police which he claimed was taken by torture and fear of death. Recently Justice Katju has noticed in his judgement that there was nothing on record to corroborate the aforesaid allegeement.

While the leading Judge, Justice M B Shah concentrated on the facts of the case in acquitting him, Justice A Pasayat chose political rhetoric to find Davinderpal Singh guilty, resulting in contradictory arguments and judgements. Justice Shah went on to say that Davinderpal Singh could not be found guilty of conspiracy as this would require by definition that he conspired with another and as others named in the confession statement are acquitted, it is impossible for him to conspire with himself. 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.

Facts

Bhullar whose father was disappeared by the Punjab police in 1991, and whose family was repeatedly harassed, went to Germany in December 1994 to seek political asylum. The immigration authorities returned him to India but in his absence a Higher German court overruled the decision.

Bhullar has been in prison for the last 18 years since being arrested upon arrival after being deported to India following an unsuccessful and unlawful asylum application in Germany in January 1995 which German Authorities now regret.

Bhullar was arrested, detained and tried under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act TADA), which is no longer in force. The United Nations condemned these laws as "disturbing and completely unacceptable".

Witnesses

None of the 133 witnesses produced by the prosecution identified him, many witnesses claimed he was not the man they had seen.

Evidence

On being handed over to the Indian police in Delhi by airline staff, Bhullar was taken into detention. The police alleged that he volunteered a confession, which was typed on a computer while Bhullar spoke but according to the authorities the secretary forgot to save the confession on the computer. TADA requires the confession to be handwritten or an audio/video record of it to be kept. The authenticity of typed confessions is doubted in the courts.

Bhullar states that he was made to sign on blank pieces of paper, which were later filled by a statement written and typed in by the police, under threat that if he did not sign he would be terminated by the Punjab Police in a false encounter. His own father had been disappeared by the Punjab police.

Court Proceeding

In India, Bhullar was prosecuted for the 1993 New Delhi car bombing. He was found guilty by the trial court and sentenced to death by hanging on 25 August 2001. The rest of the accused have been acquitted. The preceding Judge of the trial stated 'if the rest of the accused named in the confessional statement are not convicted or tried, this was not a fit case for convicting the appellant solely on the basis of the so-called confessional statement recorded by the police officer'.

Bhullar was then taken before an 'executive' magistrate (appointee of the government). TADA requires the confession document be sent to the magistrate before appearance of the person so that the magistrate is in a position to examine it. The confession document was not sent to the magistrate nevertheless the magistrate went on to ask him if he had made the confession. According to Bhullar, he was forewarned by the police that he would be eliminated by the Punjab police if he said anything other than yes. The Delhi police transferred him to the Punjab police for 2 months.

Bhullar wrote to the court that the 'confession' was involuntary and obtained under torture and fear of death. There has been no recovery of any incriminating evidence against Bhullar and there has been no identification by any individual of the accused in connection with this case.

Bhullar was examined by a police assigned medical doctor. Mr Bhullar's medical examination document is co-signed by him by a thumb print. Upon his alleged confession Mr Daya Singh Lahoria a second defendant in the case was acquitted because the only evidence against him was Bhullar's confession which could not be relied upon in the case.

In a 2002 review of the trial, an appeals court upheld Bhullar's death sentence by a split verdict of 2-1. The presiding judge voted to overturn the death penalty on Bhullar, because the testimony of the prosecution witnesses had been at odds with the account of events in Bhullar's self-confession. However, the other judges upheld the death penalty because Bhullar's confession had not been sent to the trial magistrate, it was not the basis for the conviction and Bhullar had withdrawn his confession.

Bhullar's appeal against the conviction was dismissed by the Supreme Court of India on 27 December 2006. His plea for clemency was rejected by the President of India in May 2011.

In September 2011, the Supreme Court allowed Bhullar to file an unprecedented second appeal against the death sentence. The amendment to the appeal will argue that Bhullar's first appeal against the death sentence should have been heard by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, rather than a Trial Bench. Additional pleas in the appeal will include the arguments that Bhullar's death sentence had been upheld by a 2-1 split verdict and that Bhullar was mentally ill due to the delay in his execution. The appeal will hence request that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison. In April 2013, Supreme Court upheld his death penalty after reacting to the mercy plea filed by him.

The writ petition which was filed in Supreme Court of India in April 2013 was only against the plea that delay in execution of death sentence should be a ground for converting death sentence into life imprisonment. The Supreme Court rejected the plea in April 2013, by holding that in terror crime cases pleas of delay in execution of death sentence cannot be a mitigating factor.

Bhullar is now mentally ill. The UN Commission of Human Rights urges all states that maintain the death penalty 'not to impose it on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder; not to execute any such person.' However India is still pursuing the death penalty with Bhullar.

Legislation

Despite being a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, which is yet to be ratified by India, it is well known that torture remains a pervasive and daily practice in every one of India's 25 states, as acknowledged by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the State Department (US). This was made even more apparent by the statement of Nigel Rodley (UN Special Rapportuer on Torture) that "torture is endemic in India". The Chahal case brought this very fact to the attention of the European Courts where the Judges unanimously considered that human rights violations in India were gross enough to stop Mr Chahal being sent back there by British authorities saying that while they respected the assurances of the Indian authorities to treat him according to law, they could not rely on them.

While he was waiting for the death sentence, Bhullar was convicted of other charges by the Punjab Police. However on the 1 December 2006 in the Chandigarh and Haryana High Court the judge acquitted Bhullar on the basis of lack of evidence. R.S. Baswana Addional Sessions Judge held that their was no evidence on file to link the accused with the other alleged crimes and despite the fact that the prosecution had 15 years to gather evidence against Bhullar, they were unable to produce evidence linking Mr Bhullar to the case against him.

He had filed a review petition, which was also dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar had then moved a curative petition, which too had been rejected by the Supreme Court on March 12, 2003.

Bhullar, meanwhile, had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.

In 2005, Bhullar also wrote to German chancellor to put diplomatic pressure on Indian Government. Bhullar Letter to German Authorities. The letter was later made public. Germany authorities have admitted that extradition was a grave error and also approved him for future political asylum.

The supreme court has rejected an appeal by Bhullar against his hanging. Bhullar had appealed against his execution on the grounds that his petition for mercy was kept pending by the President of the country for eight years, an unnecessary delay.

Extradition

After the bombing, Bhullar fled to Germany and sought political asylum. His asylum plea was rejected by the German government in 1995 and he was extradited back to India to face charges of terrorism although on the basis of Bhullar receiving a fair trial and not being subjected to capital punishment.

Campaign for clemency

The European Parliament passed a resolution stating that India should abolish the death penalty and grant clemency to Bhullar.

Amnesty International has also taken up the cause, launching an "Urgent Appeal" for petitions against the execution, as well as other human rights advocacy groups across the globe.

There have been protests across the globe to highlight the continuous injustice against Sikhs including a continuous 24 Hour vigil taken place over a few weeks outside Downing Street. Protests outside UN. Protests in India, Australia, Canada, America, Italy, Austria, Germany, France, UK.

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