"The Murder of Human Rights Defender Jaswant Singh Khalra"
A Summary of the November 2005 Order
Prior to Khalra's murder, police issued death threats to him, warning Khalra that he would also become an unidentified dead body if he did not cease his investigations.
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 Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Amarjit Singh to life imprisonment for murder, seven years for abduction with intent to murder, two years for destruction of evidence, and five years for criminal conspiracy. The court sentenced Station House Officer (SHO)/Sub-Inspector (SI) Satnam Singh, SHO/SI Surinderpal Singh, Head Constable (HC) Pritpal Singh, and SHO/SI Jasbir Singh to seven years imprisonment for abduction with intent to murder and five years imprisonment for criminal conspiracy. All sentences will run concurrently. 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.
In his order, Judge Bhupinder Singh defined four points for determination in this case: (1) whether there was a motive behind the abduction and killing of Khalra by the accused; (2) whether the accused criminally conspired to abduct Khalra with an intention to murder him; (3) whether Khalra had been abducted by the accused with an intention to murder him; and (4) whether Khalra had been murdered. After extensively reviewing the evidence, the judge answered in the affirmative for each point. Further, he accepted all the testimony given by the prosecution witnesses.
Singh witnessed Balwinder Singh Ghora and Arvinder Singh throw Khalra's bleeding body into the trunk of a vehicle, and then dispose of his body in the Harike canal.
Witness testimony and documentary evidence proved that the accused police officers had a motive to abduct Khalra. In the months before his disappearance, a press battle ensued between Khalra and Director General of Police (DGP) KPS Gill over Khalra’s investigations into police abductions leading to illegal cremations. Khalra also criticized the reposting of SSP Ajit Sandhu to Tarn Taran after Khalra announced his findings of mass secret cremations. Prior to Khalra’s murder, police issued death threats to him, warning Khalra that he would also become an unidentified dead body if he did not cease his investigations.
Judge Singh determined that SSP Sandhu criminally conspired with his subordinate officers “to abduct Jaswant Singh Khalra with an intention to cause him to [be] secretly and wrongfully confined. . . and . . . to eliminate him or to put him in danger of being murdered.” After thoroughly discussing the eyewitness testimony, Judge Singh established the abduction and the illegal confinement of Khalra by the accused. Next, Judge Singh discussed the testimony of Special Police Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh, who witnessed Khalra’s illegal detention, torture, murder, and the disposal of his body. SPO Kuldip Singh was instructed by SHO Satnam Singh to guard and serve meals to Khalra during his secret detention. During this time, he witnessed police officers beat Khalra and observed DGP KPS Gill question Khalra when the police took Khalra to the residence of SSP Sandhu. On the trip back from Sandhu’s residence to police station Chabbal, Judge Singh discussed how SHO Satnam Singh told Khalra that Khalra should have accepted DGP Gill’s advice, and thus saved both himself and the police officers.
Judge Singh next discussed a portion of the defense’s case. The defense argued that the prosecution’s witnesses did not initially identify the accused, and their main witness to the abduction, Rajiv Singh, and Khalra’s wife, Paramjit Kaur, improved upon their testimony in court. The defense cited the First Information Report (FIR) allegedly recorded by the Islamabad police based on an interview with Paramjit Kaur. Judge Singh rejected the defense’s arguments, instead agreeing with the prosecution that Paramjit Kaur consistently named the accused and stated to different officials that the police did not record her FIR as she reported it. Paramjit Kaur had also filed a habeas petition during the week after Khalra’s abduction which, although not mentioning all of the accused, did name their commanding officers, such as SSP Sandhu and DGP Gill. The judge thus held that the prosecution witnesses had fully identified the accused. Judge Singh also refuted the defense’s attempts to discredit witnesses Kulwant Singh, who saw Khalra in detention, and SPO Kuldip Singh.
Kuldip Singh's unrefuted testimony that former DGP KPS Gill interrogated Khalra directly implicates Gill in Khalra's abduction, illegal detention, torture, and murder.
Judge Singh then discussed whether the accused had murdered Khalra, and if so, who had done it and on whose order. He recalled the death threats made by the police to Khalra, and SPO Kuldip Singh’s testimony regarding the murder of Khalra and the disposal of his dead body. Kuldip Singh testified that he saw police officers beating Khalra. SHO Satnam Singh directed Kuldip Singh to bring a glass of water; while he was doing so, he heard two shots fired. Kuldip Singh witnessed Balwinder Singh Ghora and Arvinder Singh throw Khalra’s bleeding body into the trunk of a vehicle, and then dispose of his body in Harike canal.
Judge Singh deconstructed the police alibis and concluded that: all of the accused had motive to abduct and eliminate Khalra because he openly challenged illegal acts committed by Punjab Police; the accused then criminally conspired to abduct and silence Khalra; they executed this conspiracy by abducting Khalra on September 6, 1995, keeping him in illegal confinement, torturing and beating him; and the accused killed him about a week after Diwali in October 1995. Judge Bhupinder Singh then convicted all of the accused for criminal conspiracy to abduct and eliminate Khalra, and also convicted all of the accused for abduction with intent to eliminate Khalra. The judge further convicted DSP Jaspal Singh and ASI Amarjit Singh for murdering Khalra. He stated: “No doubt [sic], the other accused have also played part in causing the death of Jaswant Singh Khalra but only accused Jaspal Singh and Amarjit Singh have been charged under Section 302 IPC.” The judge also convicted Jaspal Singh and Amarjit Singh for destruction of evidence, with intent to shield the offenders.
The judge further convicted DSP Jaspal Singh and ASI Amarjit Singh for murdering Khalra. He stated: "No doubt [sic], the other accused have also played part in causing the death of Jaswant Singh Khalra but only accused Jaspal Singh and Amarjit Singh have been charged under Section 302 IPC."
The petitioner Paramjit Kaur has appealed the leniency of the sentences, given that the judge awarded life sentences to only two police officers. The leniency of the sentences is due, in part, to the reduced charges framed against some of the police officers. The bail applications for the convicted police officers are also currently being argued.
On December 10, 2005, Paramjit Kaur wrote a letter to the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, requesting it to conclude the investigation and bring charges against former DGP KPS Gill. In the letter, she stated that evidence emerged during the trial indicating that Gill was one of the main conspirators, and was also guilty of criminal omission to save Khalra’s life while her habeas corpus petition was pending before the Supreme Court. Kuldip Singh’s unrefuted testimony that KPS Gill interrogated Khalra directly implicates Gill in Khalra’s abduction, illegal detention, torture and murder. Further, she wrote, the participation of so many senior officers in the conspiracy to abduct and murder Khalra would not have been possible without Gill’s sanction.
Please visit http://www.ensaaf.org/khalra.html for the judge’s order, as well as a detailed summary prepared by ENSAAF that discusses the evidence presented in the case and intimidation of witnesses during the trial.