The courtyard outside the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Wednesday, reverberated with ‘Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’, ‘Panth Ki Jeet’, as soon as the news trickled out about the Crown Prosecution Service dropping charges against the three British Sikh men facing extradition to India reached the hundreds of Sikh men and women gathered outside the court complex.
The Indian government had sought extradition of Piara Singh Gill, Amritivir Singh Wahiwala and Gursharanvir Singh Wahiwala in the Rulda Singh murder case and the extradition appeal was listed to be heard from Wednesday September 22 to Friday September 24, 2021 in the court of district judge Michael Snow. The defendants had been arrested on December 21, 2020 and put up for extradition to India by the UK Home Office. The judge said the evidence was not sufficient for him to examine the extradition request.
Talking to The Indian Express, Sikh Federation UK Principal advisor Dabinderjit Singh said, “It is a fantastic news for the Sikh community today. India had fabricated evidence in the case. It should never have come to this stage. We are not going to stop here. We will make sure Home Secretary Priti Patel understands what she did was wrong. We call for her resignation and will start a community campaign for it.”
“We are delighted that the case has been dropped and we are surprised that it was brought forward in the first place causing unnecessary anxiety and pressure upon the people concerned and their families,” said Gurmel Singh Kandola, Secretary General of the Supreme Sikh Council UK.
Renowned human rights activist and defence lawyer Gareth Peirce said, “What’s happened today is exceptional. This case was always exceptional. A request was made by the Indian Government for the extradition of three men whom the government must have known on the evidence it produced in support of the charges. They must have known because the Indian government today withdrew the case, abandoned the case on the basis that they had no evidence on which to charge. This is an extraordinarily serious matter that a government, knowing the evidence it has, can go against three men in another country and hope to obtain their extradition to India. There are more reasons than the lack of evidence to drop the case today. This case is being tried not for the first time in this country. What the Indian government did not tell the court was: there have been trials of this case of other men in India over many years and they have all been acquitted.
“The judgment in those cases, serious judgments by Indian judges, have said the evidence—the same evidence that has been produced here—are fabricated, witnesses were coerced, that the witnesses did not say what the prosecution said they said. How can it be that prosecutors are able to try and try and try again on the same discredited evidence? Now, in some ways it is a disappointment that this case has finished in this court without the defence evidence being heard. The defence evidence would have been important to tell a convincing history of the behaviour of a particular police towards the Sikh community, the repeated use of legislation of enormous reach, UAPA, we, in the defence, were astonished when we began to look at records of how people in India can be arrested and proceeded against year after year without having been brought to trial. This case, if it had been heard in full, would have had importance to understanding the process of law as is brought against the Sikh community in India, would have helped to understand how it is that a British man, Mr Johal has been detained year after year after year on evidence of the same kind. A wafer-thin case based upon the confession that has come from torture. But of extreme interest to us in investigating was that the police officers in this case had themselves being convicted in disappearances, torture and murder, had been convicted and had continued to serve as police officers and one of those officers, we were astonished to note, was one of the officers identified by Mr Johal as having been involved in his torture. All of this is relevant to what steps can and should be taken by this country in relation to the position like Mr Johal, a British citizen in India. We hope what comes out of this case is recognition that it isn’t fitting to simply accept what a government says but a duty to enquire further. Now we know there are many MPs in this country who have expressed their concern, expressed their support for the defendants in this case. We hope that this can lead to real change and real recognition and that the Foreign Secretary will now take up arms in case of human rights of people who are detained there.
Meanwhile, a statement by the defendants, while thanking the ‘Panth’ for its support, it said, “The Indian government has tried to extradite us in a case based on lies and fabricated evidence. It is a disgrace to the British judicial system that the Home Office allowed this fabricated case to reach this stage. The Indian authorities submitted a bundle of 500 pages with fraudulent documents, lies and deceit…These false allegations were already thoroughly investigated in 2010 by the West Midlands police but they failed to notify the court due to their collusion with India…The Indian government, in its request, had also stated that the three of us are Indian nationals and were born in India…It is shocking that our extradition papers were signed a day after Dominic Raab returned from India after signing a trade deal…We call for an independent inquiry into why the Home Office accepted India’s extradition request in a case which a UK authority had already investigated 10 years ago and concluded with no further action.”
Gurpreet Singh Johal, brother of British national Jaggi Johal detained in India, told the Indian Express, “Today, the desperation and farce which was the attempted extradition of #WestMidlands3 only took 10 minutes for the prosecution to confirm there is no prima facie case. Today’s victory does not compensate for the constant harassment Sikh activists have faced in the UK.”
Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill tweeted: “This is a huge victory for the #WestMidlands3 and the Sikh community. Gareth Peirce statement raises serious questions for the government. Why did the Home Secretary sign extradition order, why she wasted taxpayers money and put British families and Sikh community under immense distress.”
Many gurdwaras from across the UK had arranged coaches for their congregation members to attend a demonstration outside the Westminster Magistrates Court who sung hymns and recited prayers, while the case was being heard inside.
Over 12,000 people have also signed a petition seeking revocation of the UK’s extradition treaty with India with immediate effect. If a petition gets 10k signatures the government has to respond.