The Disappearance of Human Rights Attorney Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti
On May 12, 1994, Indian security forces abducted Punjab human rights attorney Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti in broad daylight. Over the following weeks, security forces clandestinely detained and tortured Mr. Bhatti. The Indian Government continues to deny justice to Mr. Bhatti's family. On the anniversary of Mr. Bhatti's disappearance in 2007, Ensaaf submitted a communication (225KB, PDF) to the UN Special Representative on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. Relying on court papers and interviews with Mr. Bhatti's wife Harcharanjit Kaur Bhatti, the communication provides a detailed summary of Mr. Bhatti's case and identifies key perpetrators.
Mr. Bhatti was Sangrur district's leading defense lawyer for individuals accused of crimes under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Act, 1987, a draconian law that facilitated torture and indefinite detention. He was litigating 131 TADA cases at the time of his disappearance. Mr. Bhatti further protected his clients from extrajudicial executions, characterized by security forces as "encounters." In 1993, the Punjab Police started to apply for and receive production warrants that allowed them to remove individuals accused in TADA cases from jail, and kill them in fake encounters. Mr. Bhatti secured orders from the Punjab & Haryana High Court, which prevented the superintendent of the jail from removing his clients without the High Court's permission. Despite threats to his life, Mr. Bhatti refused to abandon his clients.
After security forces abducted him on May 12, 1994, two eyewitnesses saw Mr. Bhatti in custodial detention, critically injured from torture. An inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) collected evidence directly implicating then Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Jasminder Singh and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Surjit Singh in Mr. Bhatti's detention, torture, and disappearance. The evidence in the CBI report demonstrates that DSP Surjit Singh and SSP Jasminder Singh ran an unofficial interrogation center at Bahadur Singh Wala Qila in Sangrur, where Mr. Bhatti and many others were secretly detained and tortured. Despite the overwhelming evidence against several police officers, in 1997 the CBI recommended the closure of the case, concluding that Mr. Bhatti was "untraced." In 2017, the government of Punjab promoted Jasminder Singh to Director General of Police (Internal Vigilance Cell).
Mr. Bhatti's family continues to await justice. No one has been charged with torturing and disappearing him. Mr. Bhatti is survived by his wife, two daughters, and a son.