By Ronald L. Kuby
- THE DECISION AND THE NEXT STEP: During the week of February 1, 1988, Magistrate Ronald J. Hedges ruled that Sukhminder Singh Sandhu and Ranjit Singh Gill are “extraditable” under the Treaty between the United States and India.
This ruling does not mean that they will be extradited. It is, however, a first step in that direction.
At our request, the Magistrate did agree to “stay” his ruling to permit us to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition will be filed on or before March 7, 1988, and there is no possibility that Sukhminder and Ranjit will be extradited before our petition is decided. The petition will be filed with the United States District Court.
If our petition for a writ is denied, we will appeal to the United States Court of Appeals. If that decision is adverse, we have the opportunity to ask the United States Supreme Court to hear the case.
- RELEVENT DEVELOMENTS AT THE HEARING
- The Treatment Of Ranjit And Sukhminder:
Both Sukhminder and Ranjit were brought into the courtroom in handcuffs. These handcuffs were attached by a chain to their waists. Their legs were also chained together. Further, they were produced before the court in their prison uniforms, as opposed to the civilian dress routinely permitted at trials.
None of the attorneys had ever seen such treatment in an American courtroom. Defendants, even those considered extremely dangerous, are never restrained in the courtroom, unless they have previously engaged in disruptive conduct. Sukhminder and Ranjit have always comported themselves in a dignified manner.
The atorneys vigorously challenged these restraints, and applied for an emergency writ of habeas corpus. Unfortunately, the writ was denied and the restraints remained.
Despite the fact that Sukhminder and Ranjit were forced to appear in chains and in prisoners’ clothes, they both showed enormous dignity and courage during the proceedings.
- Arguments Made At the Hearings
1, The Treatment of Sukhminder and Ranjit Should They Be Returned .To Delhi
The Magistrate refused to consider evidence demonstrating that Sukhminder and Ranjit would be subjected to torture, police abuse, and false encounters should they be returned to India. However, we were able to introduce this evidence into the record of the proceedings for further review. Much of this evidence was collected by us in India.
- Refugee Status
The defense argued that Ranjit and Sukhminder should be declared refugees, who would be subject to persecution if returned to India, and that therefore the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees bar their return. The Magistrate refused to consider this argument, deciding that he had no jurisdiction to rule on their refugee status.
- Trial For Terrorist And Disruptive Activities
The defense argued that Ranjit and Sukhminder were accused of violations of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1985. The Indian government has not sought extradition for these offenses, and therefore, cannot under the Treaty, try them for these offenses. The defense pointed out that under the TADA 1985 and TADA 1987, the government must try these cases before they can try the cases for which extradition has been sought. Therefore, the Indian government cannot live up to its obligations under the Treaty, and extradition should be denied.
In response, the U.S. government represented, on behalf of the Indian Ambassador, that the Indian government promises to try Sukhminder and’ Ranjit only for violations of the Indian Penal Code, and not for TADA offenses. The Indian government further promised that these tals would take place in regular courts.
The defense argued that the promise was meaningless, as it would not be fulfilled under Indian law. The magistrate refused to consider this issue.
4, The “Political Offense Exception”.
The defense did not argue that the killings of General Vaidya, Lalit Maken, etc., were “political offenses” under the Treaty. Because Ranjit and Sukhminder are innocent of these crimes, it would be improper for them to attempt to discuss their motivations for doing things which they did not do. The Magistrate stated that he would consider the “political” nature of the acts only if Ranjit and Sukhminder admitted the offenses. Both refused to make these confessions.
- The Evidence At The Hearing
The magistrate would not permit us to question any of the so called “eyewitnesses” under oath; he would not permit us to question Sukhdev Singh; he would not consider the fact that India routinely uses torture to obtain confessions nor the fact that the photographic identifications made from a single photo were improper under both Indian and U.S. law.
Given the limited materials permitted us by the magistrate’s rulings. We still were able to make some points. For example, the sole eyewitness to the Punjab bank robbery identified the person alleged to be Sukhminder as 34-35 years old, “whitish” in complexion and “thin” in build in the FIR. Sukhminder, in fact, was 24 years old at the time of the robbery, is medium n complexion, and has a strong and powerful build. The confession of Sukhdev Singh, which implicates Sukhminder in the Vaidya killing, states that the decision to kill Vaidya was made on August 7, 1986 almost a month after the time the U.S. government, says Sukhminder entered the United States! Despite these facts, and many others, the magistrate rule that “probable cause” had been established. The magistrate also ignored our argument that most of the warrants for Sukhminder actually state the name of the accused as “Sukhvinder Singh”, a young man from Tarn Taran, whose father is Harbajan Singh. Indeed, in one of the warrants, a police officer has used a pen to change the name Sukhvinder Singh into Sukhminder Singh, by adding pen strokes to the v:’’v’’’’m’’
lll: CONCLUSION It is clear that Ranjit and Sukhminder did not receive a fair hearing before the magistrate. The courtroom was an armed camp, the magistrate was biased, and the defense was not permitted to make many arguments. It is our hope that there will be a fair hearing on the habeas corpus petition, which will be heard by a federal judge, not a magistrate.