Today, India’s Supreme Court upheld life imprisonment for five police officers convicted of the abduction and murder of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. After 16 years of facing incredible obstacles, including the intimidation of witnesses, a prolonged trial, biased prosecutors, and jail-breaks by a convicted officer, this case represents a victory for human rights in India.
Khalra Family Draws Attention to Continued Impunity
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.” Navkiran Kaur Khalra, daughter of Jaswant Singh Khalra, drew attention to the continued impunity for those crimes: “We appreciate that justice has partially been done in our case. However, this is one case. We would like to see proper investigations and prosecutions in the rest of the thousands of disappearances and illegal killings perpetrated by the Punjab police.” In a new video also released today, Mrs. Khalra describes India’s failure to redress the mass state crimes in Punjab.
Prosecute Former Police Chief KPS Gill
The Supreme Court joined the trial court and Punjab & Haryana High Court in finding a key eyewitness’s testimony credible. In his trial testimony, Special Police Officer Kuldip Singh described how he had been appointed to guard the room where Khalra was detained, and discussed the roles of different officers, including the Director General of Police (DGP) KPS Gill, in the abuses against Khalra. Kuldip Singh testified that Gill interrogated Khalra several days prior to Khalra’s murder. His testimony also indicated that Gill ordered subordinates to murder Khalra. Rajvinder Bains, the Khalra family’s attorney, called attention to the High Court petition filed by Paramjit Kaur Khalra to investigate and prosecute KPS Gill, which has been languishing for six years: “Now the High Court must investigate KPS Gill’s role in the execution of Jaswant Singh Khalra—three courts have accepted Kuldip Singh’s testimony as credible.”
Ensaaf calls on the Indian Government to prosecute police chief KPS Gill for his role in Khalra’s murder, investigate all disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed during the counterinsurgency in Punjab from 1984 to 1995, and strengthen protection for human rights defenders. Ensaaf commends the family of Jaswant Singh Khalra and lead attorneys Kamini Jaswal and Rajvinder Bains for fighting for justice for victims of police atrocities in Punjab. Ensaaf provided litigation support throughout the Khalra case.
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