Abu Salem plea against life term: SC asks Centre to clear stand on extradition accord with Portugal

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Union Home Secretary to explain the government’s stand on gangster Abu Salem’s contention that he cannot be sentenced beyond 25 years in prison as per the commitment given to Portugal authorities for his extradition.

The CBI had earlier told the court in the matter that the assurance would not mean that no court in India would award the punishment provided under the prevailing laws.

But on Tuesday, a bench presided by Justice SK Kaul observed that it is “not satisfied with” the CBI stand and sought response from the government. “The question is whether the assurance given by the then Deputy Prime Minister on behalf of the government is to be abided by or not. The government has to take a stand keeping in mind the international commitment made and the ramification…Therefore, we call upon the Home Secretary to file an affidavit in this case,” the bench also comprising Justice MM Sundresh directed that the affidavit be filed within a period of three weeks.

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The court was hearing a plea by Salem who contended that the 2017 judgment of a Mumbai TADA Court, sentencing him to life imprisonment in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, violated the terms of his extradition to India.

Seeking the Centre’s view, Justice Kaul pointed out that the assurance was given by the central government in its sovereign capacity while the CBI is only a prosecuting agency.

“Is the government saying we will not stand by the international commitment. Then please say so. The Union of India gives assurance to a foreign country. Does it stand by it or not?” the bench sought to know.

Acknowledging that the offence with which Salem was charged “is serious”, the bench said the government will, however, have to take a stand keeping in mind its far-reaching implications on future extradition attempts.

“What call we take is the second stage. You will certainly have to take a stand. We will ask the Home Secretary to file an affidavit. The offence is serious, but in your political wisdom; international wisdom you did something. You have to take care of it. It would have far-reaching ramifications the next time you want someone to come to the country,” the court said.

A special court in Mumbai had sentenced Salem to life imprisonment in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case that involved death of 257 people. The court also sentenced his co-convicts Mustafa Dossa, Karimullah Khan, Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan, Riyaz Siddiqui and Taher Merchant.

While Taher Merchant and Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan were sentenced to death, Karimullah Khan was given life imprisonment. Riyaz Siddiqui, who had been found not guilty of conspiracy, was sentenced to 10-year jail. Another accused, Abdul Qayyum Karim Sheikh, was acquitted as the prosecution failed to establish the charges against him.

The case against Mustafa Dossa was closed after his death during the trial.

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