India’s Supreme Court rejects plea for consular access to Nikhil Gupta charged by US in Pannun plot; says it’s for government to decide

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The Supreme Court on Thursday declined a petition filed on behalf of Nikhil Gupta, accused by the United States of conspiring to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Khalistani terrorist, for consular access, legal aid and ongoing extradition proceedings in the Czech Republic. A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said it’s a “sensitive” matter and it is for the Central government to take a call if it wants to intervene on the issue.

The bench said it should respect the jurisdiction of the foreign court where the matter is pending. “There is nothing much we can do. This is an international matter, and all aspects are covered under the Vienna Convention. If consular access is not granted, authorities can be approached directly. However, as per your list of dates, consular access was given to you twice,” the bench told C Aryama Sundaram, representing the kin of Gupta.

Sundaram argued that as an Indian citizen, Gupta has a right to seek assistance from his country and he was not given consular access and is being kept in solitary confinement. “It’s a sensitive matter, and let the government decide on this,” Justice Khanna said. Sundaram said he will approach the Centre to treat this petition as a representation and sought the court’s direction to ask the government to consider his representation.

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To this, the bench said it is for the Central government to decide whether to intervene in the matter or not. A Habeas Corpus petition was filed in the apex court on behalf of Gupta who is currently detained in prison in the Czech Republic while awaiting extradition to the United States in connection with the case there for allegedly being involved in a plot to murder Pannun.

The plea said Gupta, 52, was in the Czech Republic on a business exploration trip when he was detained illegally on June 30 at Prague airport and has remained in solitary confinement. The plea stated, “The circumstances surrounding his arrest were marked by irregularities, with no formal arrest warrant presented, and the apprehension executed by self-claimed US agents rather than local Czech authorities.”

The plea sought direction from the Supreme Court that the Union of India intervene in extradition proceedings pending before the Extradition Court in Prague, Czech Republic, to ensure that Gupta is guaranteed a fair and transparent trial. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is an India-designated terrorist who holds American and Canadian citizenship. The plea narrated in detail the manner in which he was allegedly detained at the airport after he had crossed the immigration counter.

The plea alleged that he was denied consular access, the right to contact his family in India, and the freedom to seek legal representation. He claimed that he is a devout Hindu and vegetarian and alleged that he was subjected to forced consumption of beef and pork during his detention in Czech custody, which he said was a direct violation of his religious beliefs. The plea further sought direction from the Indian Embassy in the Czech Republic to extend all cooperation to Gupta pending his illegal detention and incarceration in the Czech Republic.

The plea also stated that Gupta and his family have sent multiple representations to different Indian government authorities seeking immediate assistance and intervention. “Despite representations, emails, letters and phone calls both to the Ministry of External Affairs of India and to the Indian Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic, there has been no action or involvement by the Respondent Department in the current matter. There have been numerous procedural violations threatening the fundamental rights and even the most basic human rights of the Petitioner, and the same,” the plea said.

“Moreover, the petitioner is aggrieved by the blatant negligence and omission of the respondent department in handling the petitioner’s case with the due care and caution needed,” the plea added. As per the US Justice Department indictment, Indian national Nikhil Gupta is currently in custody and has been charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Czech authorities had arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic.

The US Justice Department had claimed that an Indian government employee, who was not identified in the indictment filed in a federal court in Manhattan, recruited an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta to hire a hitman to allegedly carry out the assassination of Panun, which was foiled by US authorities. The US Justice Department claimed that Gupta, is an associate of CC-1 (an unidentified person who directed the alleged plot), and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1. The indictment claims CC -1 directed the assassination plot from India.