On Friday, November 18, 2005, Additional District Judge Bhupinder Singh in Patiala convicted six Punjab police officials in the 1995 abduction and murder case of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. The court sentenced Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Jaspal Singh and Amarjit Singh to life imprisonment for murder, abduction with intent to murder, destruction of evidence, and criminal conspiracy. The court sentenced officers Satnam Singh, Surinderpal Singh, Pritpal Singh, and Jasbir Singh to seven years imprisonment for abduction with intent to murder, two years imprisonment for destruction of evidence, and five years imprisonment for criminal conspiracy. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu, the primary accused, and DSP Ashok Kumar died during the trial of the case. A revision is pending in the High Court of the earlier discharge of accused Rashpal Singh.
Through government records, Mr. Khalra demonstrated that security forces abducted, murdered, and secretly cremated an estimated 25,000 Sikhs in Punjab from 1984 to 1995. In early 1995, Mr. Khalra warned at a press conference that the Punjab government “was highly mistaken in thinking that by eliminating him the matter relating to 25,000 unclaimed bodies” in Punjab “[could] be put to an end.” He further stated that he was prepared to die for the cause of justice, and appealed to the people to “hold the police chief KPS Gill” [pictured] accountable for his murder and the mass cremations in Punjab. Punjab police abducted Mr. Khalra on September 6, 1995, tortured him in detention, and killed him in late October 1995.
Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra, widow of Mr. Khalra, welcomed today’s verdicts, but reiterated her demand that former Punjab police chief KPS Gill also be tried. During the Khalra trial, Special Police Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh testified that he witnessed KPS Gill interrogate Mr. Khalra several days prior to his murder. SPO Kuldip Singh also testified that Mr. Khalra had been tortured. Despite this testimony, no officer was charged with Mr. Khalra’s torture, nor was KPS Gill charged or summoned for examination.
ENSAAF commends and appreciates Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra for persevering in her fight for truth and justice, and also commends her legal team, led by Rajvinder Singh Bains, for putting the best case forward, despite threats. In his arguments and rebuttal before the Court, Mr. Bains highlighted: the death threats received by Mr. Khalra from Punjab police because of his investigations into mass cremations; the eyewitnesses to his abduction, illegal detention, torture, and disposal of his body; the suppression of key evidence by the government prosecutor; intimidation and implication of witnesses in false cases by the accused police officers to prevent witnesses from testifying; and failings in police alibis.
These convictions represent a major victory against impunity for systematic human rights abuses in Punjab. The convictions should mark the beginning of a new chapter of accountability, signaling an end to impunity for hundreds of perpetrators who committed torture and murder, among other abuses, during the Punjab counter-insurgency operations of 1984 to 1995.
[This entry is cross-posted on ENSAAF's Blog]
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