Court ruling keeps gunrunner out of Indian prison

Justice officials reconsidering extradition order after second court rules he risks mistreatment


A unanimous panel of five judges ruled today that admitted gunrunner Niels Holck cannot be extradited on charges of delivering four tonnes of weapons to Bengali separatists in 1995.

The ruling upholds a November 2010 decision by a lower court in Hillerød overturning a 2009 Justice Ministry order to hand over Holck, alias Kim Davy, to Indian authorities for his role in an airdrop that also saw the capture and eight-year imprisonment of a British national named Peter Bleach.

Both the original ruling, as well as today’s decision by the Eastern High Court, concluded that the 48-year-old faced a “real risk” of mistreatment if incarcerated in India.

After the trial, Holck said he was relieved, but was preparing for the prosecution to appeal the decision.

“I didn’t dare hope for this decision,” he said. “I felt like I was on my way to death row when I was heading for court this morning.”

If extradited, Holck would be the second Dane ever handed over to a country outside Europe for trial. In 2009 Camilla Broe was extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges.

An extraordinary five-justice panel had been seated to hear the case. Typically, three judges hear cases before the High Court, but the special bench was ordered because of the precedent setting nature of the case.

During the trial, public prosecutor Jørgen Jensen told the court that Holck should be held responsible for his role in the arms drop. After today’s decision, he said the Justice Ministry would review the two previous decisions before deciding whether to appeal.

“This was a judgment call. And now, two courts have ruled differently than the Justice Ministry and the public prosecutor. We’re going to have to think about this.”

Indian officials have been trying to bring Holck to trial since 2002 when new anti-terror legislation made it easier to extradite Danes for trial abroad.

In April 2010 it appeared Holck was on his way to India to stand trial after that country’s authorities issued what are known as ‘diplomatic assurances’ to the Justice Ministry that it would meet a number of stipulations ensuring his safe treatment in the country’s prison system.

Among the stipulations were that he would not face the death penalty, even though his crime is a capital offence. The Justice Ministry also required that Holck be permitted to serve his sentence in a Danish prison, that he be treated humanely, and that the case be tried as quickly as possible.

However, Holck had been fighting the order out of fear that Indian officials were not capable of living up to the assurances. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International supported those claims, saying that the government was fully aware that torture and corruption were commonplace in India’s prison system.

Human rights advocates said today’s decision emphasised that diplomatic assurances did not give the government grounds for setting aside the country’s law against handing over suspects to countries where they face torture.

“This was important, because it was a matter of Niels Holck’s safety,” Karin Verland, head of the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), said in a press release. “If there’s even the slightest risk that a person could be tortured, then authorities need to abide by the absolute ban on extradition.”