"Approach Czech Court": Supreme Court On Indian Arrested In US Murder Plot

In his petition to the Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the case today, Nikhil Gupta he is being illegally detained in Prague, and that he fears his life is in danger.

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Friday told the family of Nikhil Gupta - the man accused by the United States of conspiring to kill Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun - to approach a court in the Czech Republic for relief over claims his religious and human rights were violated.  The court refused immediate relief, and told the petitioner to file a copy with the government before setting the next date for January 4.

Mr Gupta is in prison in Prague awaiting extradition to the United States, and the petition had asked the top court to direct India to intervene. The petition, filed by a family member identified only as Mr X, claimed Mr Gupta's detention "illegal" and said there were fears to his life as a "law-abiding citizen".

The court acknowledged this to be an "extremely sensitive matter" for the Ministry of External Affairs, and Justice Sanjiv Khanna first directed the petitioner to "go before the court which is outside India", making the point that the Supreme Court of India had no jurisdiction over arrests in another country.

"The person detained (Nikhil Gupta) has not given affidavit. If there is violation of any law... you have to go to court over there," Justice Khanna underlined, before relenting and scheduling a hearing for next month, "Serve copy to central government (also)," the court said before closing the matter for now.

The petition had said "... circumstances (of the arrest in Prague) were marked by irregularities, with no formal arrest warrant presented, and the apprehension executed by self-claimed US agents rather than local Czech authorities". It also claims "grave violations of fundamental rights", including "forced consumption of beef and pork" that he found offensive as he is a "devout Hindu and vegetarian".

READ | "Rights Violated": What Family Of Indian Accused In US Murder Plot Claimed

Nikhil Gupta, 52, is accused of trying to hire a hitman to assassinate Pannun, a Khalistani terrorist who holds American-Canadian citizenship. The 'hitman' was an undercover US federal agent.

He faces a 20-year jail term if convicted of the murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges. The US has also accused an Indian government employee, whose identity has been withheld at this time.

READ | Who Is Nikhil Gupta, Man Charged In Failed Plot To Kill Khalistan Terrorist

US federal prosecutors have said Mr Gupta and the Indian government employee, whom they have code-named CC-1, exchanged a series of telephonic and electronic communications starting May, in which the latter asked the former to plan the murder. In return, Mr Gupta was promised assistance in dropping a criminal case against him in India. The two also met in person, in Delhi, the US has said.

Acting on CC-1's instructions, Mr Gupta allegedly sought the assistance of an individual he believed to be a criminal associate but who was, in reality, a confidential informant working with the United States' Drug Enforcement Administration, to hire a hitman to kill Pannun in New York City.

Subsequently, CC-1 reached a deal - allegedly brokered by Mr Gupta, labelled an "international narcotics trafficker" - with the undercover officer to pay $100,000 for the killing.

Responding to the charges, the External Affairs Ministry had said "India takes such inputs seriously, since they impinge on our national security interests as well, and relevant departments are already examining the issue." A high-level inquiry committee has been established, the government said.

Last week, the White House called on Delhi to hold accountable those involved in this plot, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States "looks forward to the results" of the inquiry.

READ | "Take It Very Seriously": US After Indian Charged In Alleged Murder Plot

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that while India "remains a strategic partner", "... we take these allegations, and this investigation, very seriously".

Meanwhile, this case has prompted renewed scrutiny of allegations made by Canada - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government said it had "credible allegations" that an Indian government official was involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistani terrorist and Canadian citizen, in June.

READ | India Must Take "Canada's Allegations Seriously": Trudeau After US Case

Last month, after the US' charges were revealed, Mr Trudeau told reporters it "... underscores what we've been talking about from the beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously."

READ | S Jaishankar Asks Canada To Give Evidence In Hardeep Nijjar Killing Case

India has rubbished Canada's claims as "motivated" and "absurd", and told Ottawa "this is not the Government of India's policy". It has also pointed out that no concrete evidence has been shared so far.

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