India’s top court commutes death sentence of Surrey woman’s jailed husband to life in prison

In this Friday, April 19, 2013 file photo, Indian Sikhs protest against a verdict of the Supreme Court dismissing the plea for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment for death row convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, in New Delhi, India. AP Photo/Saurabh Das, File

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW DELHI — India’s top court on Monday commuted the death sentence of a Surrey woman’s husband convicted in a 1993 bombing to life in prison.

Defence attorney K.T.S. Tulsi said the Supreme Court ruled that a delay of eight years by the government in deciding Devinderpal Singh Bhullar’s petition for mercy amounted to cruelty. Also, he was suffering from mental illness, it said.

Bhullar was convicted of triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in 1993 that killed nine people. A violent campaign by Sikh separatists for an independent homeland in the northern Punjab region ended in the 1990s.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled that an unexplained or unreasonable delay by the government in deciding mercy petitions was dehumanizing to death row convicts. It then reduced the death sentences of 15 other prisoners, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Last week, the Indian government told the top court that it had no problem with Bhullar being spared the death sentence.

Bhullar’s wife, Navneet Kaur, who lives in Surrey, B.C. with her parents, has been hoping for his sentence to be commuted since the January ruling. In an interview with Vancouver Desi earlier this year, she also said she hopes it will lead to the reopening of his case, as she’s spent the past 20 years sitting through countless trials and filing endless petitions hoping to prove her husband’s innocence – to no avail.

Kaur married her husband  in India in the early 1990s, but the newlyweds were quickly torn apart when Bhullar, a college professor in Punjab at the time, was alleged to be involved in the car bombing.

Bhullar’s wife Navneet Kaur in her home in Surrey January 22 2014. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG staff photo

He remained underground in Germany until 1994, when he planned to join his wife in Canada. But Germany deported him back to India where he was accused of plotting the terror attack. In 2001, nearly a decade later, he was sentenced to death. He spent ten years in solitary confinement, which resulted in his mental instability and transfer to a psychiatric facility.

Kaur could not be reached by phone Monday, but Amnesty International welcomed the top court’s ruling.

“Authorities should use the momentum generated by these decisions to establish a moratorium on executions and move toward abolishing the death penalty altogether,” Shashikumar Velath, a director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement.

- with files from Vancouver Desi

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05:43ET 31-03-14

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