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I arrived in court there with written credentials, a fellow member of a bar of a fellow commonwealth country. I am introduced to the prosecution first. I have no brief for either side. Two days later as I walked out of court, and in the court I would say of 20 persons present, 18 must be police officers, they literally arrested me, a man who had been sent down from New Delhi for the special purpose of watching me, which I found very flattering, and would not let me go until I told him what I thought about the trial. I did not tell him, I must say.
The conclusion was ironic: I was told the next day the colleagues of this rather incompetent security man gave him hell for being so obvious. But my presence in India was punctuated by a lot of police
Mr. FRASER. Did you get into the question of why there was a confession allegedly?
Mr. SHEPPARD. A confession by this prosecution witness; because the accused, none of them confessed. They violently denied any participation.
First of all, I had no access to this gentleman because, whenever he showed up in court, he was surrounded by, I would say, an armata of 40 armed soldiers. Second, with my experience, I really do not have to be told why a man who is in police custody for 6 months confesses, especially when I also know that as a condition of his testimony he was pardoned for his crime. In other words, he cannot be charged with the six murders he confessed to, but the 44 remaining murders have not been pardoned. So if the result of the trial is not what the prosecution wants, this gentleman might find himself-as he admitted in court-hanging from a scaffold.
I do not know why he confessed or was such a willing prosecution witness, but I have some theories.
Mr. FRASER. Where does the matter stand now?
Mr. SHEPPARD. I have a fresh report on that as of yesterday. The prosecution has finished its arguments. The defense has begun its argument. I understand that arguments ought to finish in November. The trial started last December, and the trial judge will render his judgment in the following months. There are no jury trials in India, as you may know.
Mr. FRASER. I did not know. Is that now or always?
Mr. SHEPPARD. No, that preceded the emergency.
What I would call the persecution of Ananda Marga, it started several years ago. I did not conduct a profound study of why the Indian Government does not like Ananda Marga. Frankly, if I were in the Government and I had a religious movement going around calling me immoral and what-have-you, I would not like it. But I would not put everybody in jail for that.
One thought that comes to mind talking about emergency, as you know, in Canada, we had an emergency in 1970 at which time a terrorist movement, which seemed to be much larger than it turned out to be, kidnaped and murdered a cabinet minister, and kidnaped and held for a long time a British diplomat. In a country where there had never been terrorism and which is known for a fairly stable regime, it came as a thunderclap, and we passed our own emergency regulations. We did not see it necessary to curb the judiciary. We did not see it necessary to curb the press. And we did not see it as being
necessary to maintain the political emergency or judicial emergency for more than a few weeks.
You have to distinguish between economic and social problems on the one hand-which are long-range and which may justify energetic measures-and the obstruction of political freedoms on the other hand, which really, from what I saw, were not justified in India. Remember, it happened a few weeks after Mrs. Ghandi was found guilty of corrupt political practices.
Mr. FRASER. Mr. Smeeton.
Mr. SMEETON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We have heard from several sources that appear to be quite knowledgeable about Indian affairs that the Government plans on making this a showcase trial with the bottom line being the execution of Mr. Sarkar.
Do you feel there is any chance that he will be executed?
Mr. SHEPPARD. First, he has to be found guilty. And I am not sure from what I hear that Mr. Singh's conscience will permit him to convict the accused. And I do not know whether in India there have been many executions. It is not part of the Indian tradition.
But I am afraid that it is a real possibility. And, first of all. I personally would not like to see anybody executed for any crime, but certainly not on the flimsy evidence that has been used in this case. When you say it is a showcase trial, one thing that illustrates it, you know that there is a special Indian regulation which I quote in my report applying special censorship to the Sarkar trial. The reporters are not even allowed to report what happens in court without going through the censor, which indicates the importance, the political importance, attached to what the Indians on the one hand, say is a purely criminal case. If it is a purely criminal case, what harm is there in reporting it when every day in India people hear about people being beheaded by murderers, rapes and lots of other gory details.
There is a regulation, I quote chapter and verse, it is a confidential, secret regulation.
Mr. SMEETON. Did not one of the departments of Government publish, I think about a year ago, anti-Ananda Marga propaganda?
Mr. SHEPPARD. That is the document I alluded to. A man who was an unsuccessful parliament candidate-I have it here, in fact-an unsuccessful candidate, I would say an equally unsuccessful journalist afterwards, was hired by the Indian Government to write a pamphlet, Ananda Marga-The Truth, published by the Indian Government. The objective of this pamphlet is indicated by the cover, which is a skull with barbed wire in front of it. I was present when this man testified as an expert of Ananda Marga, and he was confronted with the fact that in this report he refers to Mr. Sarkar as a perverted megalomaniac and then in cross-examination denied that he had any bias against Mr. Sarkar.
Mr. SMEETON. I think you mentioned somewhere in the body of your report that Mr. Sarkar has been fasting for better than 31% years. Why is he fasting, and what will it take to persuade him to break his fast?
Mr. SHEPPARD. Mr. Sarkar went on a fast, I understand, more than 3 years ago after a purported attempt to poison him in prison. I say
"purported"-I do not know whether it is true or whether he is right or wrong. He has gone on some sort of a liquid diet and Mr. Runde knows a lot more about this situation than I do, because since it was a self-imposed fast, and I was representing two legal organizations only interested in the fairness of the trial, I did not want to get into issues which are important, but on which I really have little expertise.
What I know about his condition is that he is too sick to be in court; that he had to be brought on a stretcher to testify on his own behalfMr. SMEETON. Excuse me. Did you ever see him at all when you were there?
Mr. SHEPPARD. No; that happened after. But I spoke to defense attorneys. In fact, he is so weak he cannot speak and he communicates with his lawyers-and I understand that is how he testified a few weeks ago by using an alphabet chart on which he spells out the words in reply to the questions put to him. Now what would persuade him to terminate his fast, I do not know. I think Mr. Runde might be able to answer that, but it is an extraordinary situation. I also gather that the Indian authorities are not making particularly energetic efforts to have him terminate his fast.
STATEMENT OF CRAIG RUNDE, FORMER DIRECTOR OF P. R. SARKAR INTERNATIONAL DEFENSE COMMITTEE
Mr. RUNDE. I went to India in 1974 with Mr. Wells who was mentioned before. Mr. Wells' journey was specifically oriented around the question of this fast in finding out ways that it might be possible to have it ended. It seems as if there were conditions under which Mr. Sarkar began his fast. Several dealt with providing proper food, visitation rights and the ending of illegal imprisonment of some of his followers.
The fourth point which is probably the most important and most significant is the question of the poisoning incident, which is said to have happened in early 1973 after Mr. Sarkar had asked court protection from this very sort of thing and had not received it.
After this incident on April 1, 1973, he began his fast which is now in his 1,272 day. With regard to poisoning, he asked there be judicial inquiry into it so he might make known officially his thoughts on it, who he thought was involved, et cetera. The Indian Government refused to acknowledge his requests, refused to acknowledge Mr. Well's suggestion that this would be a very important humanitarian move to take. In late 1974, there was a commission report. It was a nonofficial commission made up of certain members of the Calcutta bar who found, in fact, Mr. Sarkar was poisoning himself by an overdose of barbiturates administered by the jail doctor.
Still the Government has failed to acknowledge that report and eventually it is continuing to say, there is nothing wrong, Mr. Sarkar's health is quite satisfactory in certain letters to Members of Congress. The Indian Ambassador to the United States has suggested that his health is fine. His treatment is fine, and we need not be concerned. Of course, we feel very differently about that.
Mr. SMEETON. Are there any other trials currently pending that involve members of Ananda Marga?
Mr. SHEPPARD. I understand there are one or two other trials. The accused in this particular case have future trials pending against them.
They will need many acquittals if they would ever like to see the light of freedom again.
Mr. RUNDE. Could I add another rather sensationalized issue? One trial now pending in New Delhi with regard to an alleged assassination attempt upon the Chief Justice of India in early 1975 and also yet to come in Patna again will be a trial against the several members of Ananda Marga with regard to the assassination of the railway minister in early 1975. In both of these cases, there is a tremendous parallel as to how the case would evolve against CBI and the central government police being involved around the prosecution of each. The only main witness again being a former member who is held in custody for some time, confesses, implicates other people and then is granted a pardon.
In some sense, this is as much a human rights issue as Mr. Sarkar's trial because these gentlemen face death sentences as well.
In a rather interesting note, Mrs. Ghandi, in a letter to a Swedish inquirer, and this was slightly after the emergency but before any of these trials even began, said the following. I will read it.
Mr. Sarkar is on trial for murders and other crimes. Some months ago his organization assassinated our railway minister and more recently made an attempt on the life of our Chief Justice. They had drawn up a list of other intended victims, people prominent and in public life, including myself.
The Prime Minister already has the outcome sealed. It is hard to say whether a lower court judge is going to be able to stand up against that kind of potential intimidation.
Mr. SMEETON. You mentioned you were there for about a month, the month of June.
Mr. SHEPPARD. No; I attended 9 days of hearings.
Mr. SMEETON. You actually observed 9 days of hearings?
Mr. SHEPPARD. Yes.
Mr. SMEETON. Did you have any way of determining whether what you saw then was typical of the trial as a whole?
Mr. SHEPPARD. That was a big issue before I went, and it is not the first trial that I have observed. I have always felt, perhaps wrongly, that a trained, practicing lawyer who is concerned with the form and the methods of a trial can come to conclusions very rapidly. I did a lot of research. I met a lot of people before. I even went on my way to India to meet Mr. Wells who is a British barrister involved in the defense. I spoke at length with both prosecution and defense lawyers who were very much afraid to meet with me, I might add, to give you an indication of the climate there. For instance, they would not even talk to me until I had been introduced to them by the prosecuting attorney. And I was assured, and I am convinced, that what I observed was extremely typical and characteristic.
Mr. SMEETON. Extremely typical?
Mr. SHEPPARD. And characteristic of the rest of the trial, no doubt in my mind.
Mr. SMEETON. I was reading the other day in the New York Times an article on India by William Borders in which he was talking about the legal system becoming politicized and that this was causing a growing concern amongst significant portions of the legal profession. Did you get an opportunity while you were there to talk to members of the Indian bar? Was any of this concern manifested or expressed to you?
Mr. SHEPPARD. I read the article that you referred to, and I do not want to publicly breach the confidence of people I met and obviously since I was followed everywhere, I am sure even the inefficient CBI knows who I met.
If I can generalize, there has been concern that Mr. Prasad and Mr. Banerjee, the two leading defense counsel, might be jailed after the trial. I asked them about it and both of them, first of all, said that they were not afraid. They were very senior members of the bar. They did not anticipate that they might be imprisoned. And their conduct in court, I must say, was very much fearless and energetic despite the sort of slow pace of the cross-examination. It was not the cross-examination of men who are afraid. I must say publicly that I very much admired their courage under the circumstances.
But I also spoke to other lawyers who are less eminent and who are, let us say, less protected by their background and their wealth. And they are all convinced sooner or later they are going to make an unexpected visit to prison. I do not know whether their fears are justified, but the very fact practicing lawyers have to be afraid that that possibility exists is significant. Another fear I have heard about but which I cannot verify, is that one of the reasons that the issue of defense funds is so important is that in the present atmosphere, if a lawyer defends somebody from a banned movement without being paid, he might be suspected of doing it because he believes in the movement, of being guilty by association, and that is ground enough to jail him.
It has not happened, but you live in a system in which serious men and women of the bar are afraid of that type of thing. I saw no evidence of it, but having seen evidence of just what was happening to me, and I knew I was hopefully getting out of the country in a few days, and being told that lawyers are followed and, in fact, one young lawyer told me she had been warned by a friendly member of the CBI that really they know what company she was keeping and she better change her ways, gives you an idea. And that article, which the New York Times published, I think is a mild indication of what is going on because it only refers to large cities, but in small cities like Patna, it is much worse.
Mr. SMEETON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Sheppard.
Mr. FRASER. Mr. Sheppard, you have given us a graphic picture. How soon will the verdict come out?
Mr. SHEPPARD. I am told November is the end of the proceedings and there are a lot of legal issues involved also that it may take a few months before Justice Singh can grant his judgment. Things move very slowly.
Mr. FRASER. Does he have to be in jail during this time?
Mr. SHEPPARD. First of all, there are a lot of people in jail in India who are not even charged.
Mr. FRASER. I know.
Mr. SHEPPARD. Mr. Sarkar and the others are charged with extremely grave murder, if the accusation is true. I touched on this matter in my report. I pointed out that very few countries, including Canada, allow bail in serious murder cases. American rules of bail are a lot more liberal than in many countries, and I am not prepared