'Extradition Only If Proved Guilty'
Herculano Vieira, one of Portugal's most reputed lawyers, says it won't be an easy task extraditing underworld operator Abu Salem, currently in custody in Lisbon with his second wife, Bollywood starlet Monica Bedi, to India. Vieira, of the Portuguese Refugee Council, says that Article 33 of the Portuguese Constitution makes extradition difficult since it is categoric that "extradition for political reasons is not permitted" and that "there will be no extradition for crimes corresponding to death penalty according to the law of the requiring country". In an exclusive interview to Outlook, Vieira points out that extradition can only be affected judicially and not through political or diplomatic pressure. Moreover, Abu Salem, charged with travelling on a fake passport (his wife Bedi is being held for bigamy because of her two marriages—with Salem and a Portuguese citizen from Goa, Kumar Ramesh) has to be first tried for crimes committed in Portugal. This makes his possible extradition a time-consuming process. Vieira spoke to Mario Dujisin, in Lisbon. Excerpts:
Indian authorities claim that Abu Salem is involved in terrorist activity and has links with Al Qaeda. Isn't that a strong case for extradition?
Terrorism must be fought. But it doesn't mean that the law of the land must not prevail. First, to extradite someone, it's necessary to take him to trial for crimes committed in the country of his arrest (Portugal).
Is it necessary that the cases against Salem and Bedi are tried before extradition can even be considered?
Indeed, no process of extradition can be initiated until the Portuguese courts don't judge these offences. And this can take some time.
Are we talking in terms of months or even years?
In a case like this, with the methods that exist today, it is possible to quickly determine the authenticity of documents. Therefore, I don't think it will be too long, maybe a few months.
And only then can an extradition process be started.
Of course. The gravity of Salem's crimes have to be a certainty before the courts proceed in the case. What Portugal doesn't permit is that a person be extradited without enough proof of his crimes. In other words, it's necessary to respect the rules that include the unconditional defence of human rights, which includes strong opposition to the death penalty.
But India has already guaranteed that death penalty will not be applied in this case.
That is true. But a mere press statement about such a serious issue isn't enough. There has to be absolute certainty about the non-application of the death penalty. Our law also forbids the delivery of prisoners to countries where life sentence can be applied. This is a very complex case. On the one side, the Constitution is very clear, and, on the other, terrorism must be fought. The courts must be certain and convinced that the request is fair. Or else, we enter a tricky terrain where post-September 11 human rights are sometimes openly violated in the name of fighting terrorism.
Could you elaborate on that?
In the name of fighting terrorism—which, I insist, is a curse of our times—the police are abusing human rights. It is regrettable that human rights are being violated with impunity around the world because of what happened in New York more than a year ago. Protection of human rights is essential. You should not give immunity to a criminal, but the punishment has to be applied in a way that the fundamental principles of national and international law are not violated.
Since there is no extradition treaty between Portugal and India, do you think it's possible that a bilateral agreement between Lisbon and Delhi can be reached in Salem's case?
Even if that happens we must not forget that Portugal, in extradition matters, acts according to the Geneva Convention and the International Asylum laws.Certainly, some cases are viewed with September 11 in the background. But international law must prevail. And that is something that the entire civilised world is agreed upon.
So we can then conclude that even though the crimes allegedly committed by Abu Salem are terrible, the law must come first.
Absolutely. If we plainly disregard the legal proceedings and show no respect for the fundamental law of the land, then we are going back to the law of the jungle.