Khalra Murder Case
High Court Upholds Convictions of Five Officers; Acquits One Officer
(California) On October 8, 2007, a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued an oral judgment in the appeals relating to the convictions of six police officers for their roles in the abduction and murder of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra. The High Court upheld the convictions of Punjab police officers Jaspal Singh, Satnam Singh, Surinderpal Singh, Pritpal Singh, and Jasbir Singh, and acquitted Amarjit Singh of all charges.
Punjab police illegally detained, tortured, and murdered Jaswant Singh Khalra in October 1995 after he released findings of thousands of extrajudicial executions and secret cremations carried out by the police in Amritsar, Punjab. His investigations led India's Supreme Court to find "a flagrant violation of human rights on a mass scale."
On November 18, 2005, Additional Sessions Judge Bhupinder Singh in Patiala had sentenced Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Jaspal Singh and Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Amarjit Singh to life imprisonment for murder, seven years imprisonment for abduction with intent to murder, two years for destruction of evidence, and five years for 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 and five years imprisonment for criminal conspiracy. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu and DSP Ashok Kumar died during the trial of the case.
Khalra's widow Paramjit Kaur was represented by human rights advocate Rajvinder S. Bains. According to the Tribune, in its oral pronouncement on the appeals, the judicial bench stated: "Taking the statement of witnesses in totality, we have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that Jaswant Singh Khalra was picked up from his house at the instance of SSP Ajit Singh Sandhu by appellants Jaspal Singh, Satnam Singh, Surinder Pal Singh, Jasbir Singh and Prithipal Singh. He was tortured at Jhabal police station and shot dead there. Finally, they disposed of his body near the Harike Bridge on the Sutlej."
The High Court, however, ruled that there was insufficient evidence against Amarjit Singh, because the key witness who described Amarjit Singh's role in his statement to the prosecutors had turned hostile during the trial. Kikar Singh initially told the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that he saw Khalra in police custody at police station Kang on October 24, 1995, witnessed signs of torture on his body, and helped Khalra eat. After giving his statement to the CBI, Kikar Singh received security to protect him from the police. In an affidavit, however, Kikar Singh stated that police were pressuring him to turn against the prosecution by implicating him and his family in false cases. Two of the accused officers also raided his house, forcibly taking possession of his property in connivance with his security guard. After spending time in judicial custody, Kikar Singh eventually turned hostile.
In coming to its finding, the High Court especially cited the testimony of Special Police Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh. In his trial testimony, SPO Kuldip Singh described how he had been appointed to guard the room where Khalra was detained, and discussed the role of different officers, including the senior-most officer, Director General of Police (DGP) KPS Gill, in the abuses against Khalra. According to his trial testimony, the police took Khalra to SSP Sandhu's residence, where DGP Gill joined them and interrogated Khalra for half an hour. On the ride back to the police station, Station House Officer (SHO) Satnam Singh told Khalra to accept DGP Gill's advice and save himself. According to the Tribune, Justice MS Gill stated: "Kuldeep Singh is the star witness...We find his statement to be truthful, convincing and inspiring confidence. He initially was under fear, but at a later stage came out with the truth. He is an eyewitness to the gruesome abduction, murder and disposal of Khalra's body."
Mrs. Khalra had also appealed the leniency of the sentences, arguing that all who gave orders or otherwise participated in the murder should receive life sentences. The High Court will rule on the sentencing aspects later this week.
On September 6, 2006, Mrs. Khalra also filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court after the CBI refused to investigate and prosecute KPS Gill for his role in Khalra's abduction and murder. Ensaaf worked with attorney Bains to draft the petition and apply the international law doctrine of superior responsibility. The High Court declined to hear this petition, and instead, transferred the case to another bench.
Credible reports have emerged that key convicted officials, such as DSP Jaspal Singh, have broken out of jail for select periods of time, to stay with their families.
On October 16, 2007, the High Court increased the sentences of Satnam Singh, Surinderpal Singh, Pritpal Singh, and Jasbir Singh to life imprisonment. All five convicted officers now must serve life sentences.
Visit Ensaaf's page on advocacy pursued regarding the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra. This page includes links to judgments and legal papers, as well as information on joint initiatives by international human rights organizations, including Ensaaf, Human Rights Watch, REDRESS, and the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice.