In 1995, Niels Holck, Peter Bleach and a crew of five Latvians dropped four tonnes of weapons out of a plane in India’s eastern state of West Bengal. Bleach, a British citizen, and the Latvians were caught and imprisoned in India for their part in the weapons drop, but Holck managed to evade capture, eventually returning to Denmark.
Ten years of unsuccessful extradition requests by India culminated this June when the Eastern High Court decided that Holck’s risk of torture in an Indian jail – even with diplomatic assurances from the Indian government that he would be treated well – meant he could not be delivered to face trial.
According to Indians living in Denmark, India’s ‘freezing’ of relations with Denmark last week was a frustrated response as there is no longer any existing legal recourse available to apprehend and convict a man implicated in domestic terrorism – a highly emotive issue in India, especially after the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
“The Danes feel he would be ill treated in India and to some he’s considered a freedom fighter. But he has no place fighting a cause in another sovereign country,” an Indian who asked only to be identified as Guatam told The Copenhagen Post.
Holck has admitted his part in the 1995 weapons drop, but in an interview with the Times of India this April he stated that the weapons were to protect the recipients from communist and state-sponsored terror. While it is difficult to confirm whether this was the case, Holck’s act was still illegal, making him accountable under Indian law.
India attempted to extradite Holck on the conditions that he would not face the death penalty, would receive ‘favourtised treatment’, and would be returned to Denmark to serve his sentence no later than three weeks after his potential conviction. But the Danish Eastern High Court decided the conditions could not be guaranteed and the extradition attempt failed.
“India has already given a guarantee he would be given back and that he would not be executed, so Denmark should put some trust in India and allow India authorities to investigate him,” continued Guatam.
“Even in Denmark he’s not punished and he’s not accountable,” Guatam said. “[Indians] consider him a terrorist and they feel betrayed.”
Other Indians in Denmark The Copenhagen Post spoke to conceded that India is known to have problems related to the treatment of prisoners, but felt that unless he is handed over for trial, justice will not be served.
“They are pretty bitter about it,” Vivek Kanwar Singh, a fashion designer living in Denmark, said about how the Indians back home were responding to the case.
“There comes a point where they want all the people responsible brought to justice. He is one of the accused and having him would give them more leads. They are trying to get to the mastermind and he would act as a good lead, and I’m sure that’s why we want him.”
“Having him tried in India would be an emotional satisfaction,” he added.
Devapriyo Das, an Indian journalist living in Denmark, argued that despite the frustration due to the failed extradition, many Indians sympathise with the Danish court’s decision.
“When you read about the case in the Danish press, they talk about the fact that Niel Holck’s people are scared he’ll be tortured. And in India some people would say: ‘Yes there’s a concern,’ because India has a poor track record with police brutality,” Das said.
“Those Indians would tend to agree with Niels Holck’s lawyers. But then there’s the feeling that maybe a man like this needs to face some sort of justice, so the Danish government should at least try and appeal this case and get a judgment.”
Despite this, there is a feeling that India’s international role in anti-terrorism efforts is not being rewarded.
“I think Indians would be upset because there’s a lot of hypocrisy. India is a democratic country that has worked with other countries on terrorism issues. So it’s unfortunate that Denmark can’t work with India on this case,” Das said. “A lot of us would agree the courts have made a decision, and that’s the decision. But the underlying point is the double standard and hypocrisy. We are a country that glorifies our democracy, but we are still unable to work together with Denmark on a straight and forward criminal case.”