Abu Salem’s extradition

And Portugal saves a terrorist’s life

Two years ago, Portugal’s refusal to extradite Abu Salem raised a question — could India rely on Europe as a partner in its own war against terrorism? In June 2004, the Portuguese Supreme Court turned down India’s request for his extradition, even after India agreed not to seek the death penalty in the course of his prosecution in Indian courts. But the case made its way through the Portuguese legal system until the constitutional court rejected Abu Salem’s appeal and cleared the way for his extradition. Abu Salem and his wife, Monica Bedi are now in Indian custody. If Portugal had failed to do this, it would have put itself in the same league as Mullah Omar, Pervez Musharraf and the old Muammar Gaddafi.

But what of the Indian government’s promise not to seek the death penalty in his case? This may be the first successful extradition from any European nation to India, but it has also set a precedent of ‘legal arbitrage’. If India wanted to secure the custody of Abu Salem, then it had no choice but to accept Portugal’s terms. Some have argued against accepting these terms, arguing that they would create a terrible precedent. While the precedent is indeed disturbing, it is not quite as disturbing as the Indian government giving up the chase for fear of creating a precedent. That too would have created a precedent, and a worse one than it intended to prevent.

For justice to be done, the exact form of punishment is not as important as the fact that criminals are made to stand a fair trial for their alleged crimes. So should it be with Abu Salem.

11 thoughts on “Abu Salem’s extradition”

  1. criminals are made to stand a fair trial for their alleged crimes

    Couldn’t it be argued that not having the ability to hand out a death penalty is not fair trial?

  2. Srijith,

    Yes. I would agree with that; it is ‘unfair’ to other criminals who have committed the same offence but did not have a chance to go to Europe. The unfairness is part of what the terrible legal precedent is all about. But given that the death penalty is so sparingly used in India, the actual impact of this principle is marginal.

  3. I would agree with that; it is ‘unfair’ to other criminals who have committed the same offence but did not have a chance to go to Europe.

    Nice try at sarcasm 🙂 But what I mean by ‘not fair’ was from the point of view of people close to those who have been killed by Abu Salem who may want bigger punishment handed out. I had read earlier reports that the Portuguese had also insisted that the term of sentence if convicted cannot be greater that 25 years. That to me is a big concession.

  4. I would say, its not just about the punishment that would be meted out, but how much information can be taken out. It will also raise a stink in the Bhai-world that India is really serious about following up on crimes committed on its territory, whatever the cost.

  5. Frustrating – having to kow-tow to that nothing-country Portugal. I yearn for the day that India can hold out a credible threat to the “rest” of Portugal like we did in 1962 to their then-province, Goa. We could dispense with this laborious process of convincing nobody’s.

  6. Srijith & libertarian,

    Yes. But I think now that India has made the commitment, it must honour it.

  7. Nitin, agreed. We must honor it. Hopefully we grow increasingly dominant to the point where we can pressure governments to surrender enemy combatants just as the US does today.

  8. FWIW, there have been several would-be extraditions to the US from European countries that have been stopped by courts because the person involved could face the death penalty in the US. So the notion that even a powerful government can force another country to surrender enemy combatants is nonsense.

    If a country choses not to extradite someone for political reasons, that deserves widespread condemntation and an appropriate reaction. If a country’s laws specifically forbid extradition to a country where a death sentence is possible, then I don’t believe in condemning that country. Its courts will and should adjudicate only the law, and should not be overriden by elected leaders on a case-by-case basis. The situation is vastly different from Gulf Countries that refuse to extradite Daoud Ibrahim, for instance.

  9. Ideally, Abu Salem should be executed. The promise of the government of India not to try him with the death penalty is not a promise made by the Courts of India, and neither does it(the goverment) have the right to do so. If they want they could give him a presidential pardon or nothing at all, but to bring him to court with TWO preconditions to his sentencing is preposterous.

    Not to mention, that by keeping him alive, he is still a viable threat to the country.

    A fair trial is all he deserves, nothing more and nothing less.

    However, if executed, we must say goodbye to all future EU extraditions, which is a big detterance. I say, we should wait it out, manage to get Dawood as well, and only then execute them both.

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