India: Open letter to Law Minister about the trial of Abdul Rehman Geelani and three others

In an open letter to India's Law Minister, Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan expressed concern that pre-trial proceedings appear to have been flawed. 'The scheduling of hearings of the trial (commencing today, 8 July 2002), indicates that the speed at which the trial is to be conducted may violate the defendants' right to present a full defence. Moreover the special legislation under which the accused are to be tried is flawed and likely to facilitate an unfair trial,' she said.

While acknowledging the obligation of states to uphold law and order and to protect their populations from violent criminal acts such as the attack on the Indian parliament on 13 December 2001, Amnesty International is concerned that in this context human rights protection is all too often relegated to second place. In particular, the organisation is concerned that the accused could be sentenced to death if found guilty of the crimes with which they are charged. The organisation opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life.

In her letter, Ms. Irene Khan points to the case of Abdul Rehman Geelani, as an example of the willingness of those working in the criminal justice system to suspend even minimum safeguards available under special anti-terrorist legislation which is itself grossly defective.

Amnesty International fears that the trial, one of the first in India under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002 (POTA), will have a signal effect for scores of other cases being brought under POTA in India. The trial should therefore be subjected to very careful scrutiny. First indications in the present case are very alarming as pre-trial procedures have already involved a range of abuses,' she said.

'The Government of India should take all possible care to ensure a fair trial to the accused in the present case and to investigate, promptly, effectively, independently and impartially, the violations of rights of these four accused which appear to have taken place in the pre-trial period, and particularly the allegation that Abdul Rehman Geelani was tortured in police custody. Indian authorities should consider bringing POTA into conformity with international standards for fair trial,' she said

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