Judge clears way for deportation of Sikh activist

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A HIGH COURT judge yesterday paved the way for the Government to deport a Sikh independence campaigner who says he will face arrest and torture at the hands of the Indian security forces.

Mr Justice Potts dismissed an application for judicial review by Karamjit Singh Chahal, who claimed that the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, had acted unreasonably by refusing him asylum and seeking to exclude him from Britain.

The judge said he was satisfied that Mr Clarke 'implicitly and clearly evaluated the risk of torture against the risk to national security and decided that the latter outweighed the former'.

His ruling was described as 'deeply, deeply distressing' by David Burgess, Mr Chahal's solicitor. Mr Burgess said the judge had been prevented from seeing all the material before the Home Secretary. 'It is impossible to say what commercial or political pressures may be operating on the Secretary of State and clouding his judgement.'

During the four-day hearing, Mr Chahal's lawyers said he had suffered torture at the hands of the Indian police on a visit to Punjab in 1984, and would face similar treatment again if deported. Mr Chahal, who has been held in Bedford jail for more than two and a half years, would be exposed to a real risk of 'inhuman and degrading treatment' if sent back, his lawyers said.

The court was told that the Home Office had accused Mr Chahal of a 'public history of violent involvement in Sikh terrorism', partly as a result of a nine-month prison sentence imposed in 1987 for causing actual bodily harm. Even though this conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal, the Home Secretary refused to withdraw his accusations.

It was the second time Mr Chahal had asked a High Court judge to review a government ruling. In 1991, Mr Justice Popplewell ordered the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker, to reconsider his decision to refuse Mr Chahal asylum, saying that the Government had failed to indicate what weight it gave to Amnesty International reports on human rights abuses in Punjab.

But Mr Baker's successor, Mr Clarke, re-affirmed the deportation decision. Yesterday, Mr Justice Potts said he was right to do so. The Home Office had received assurances from India that Mr Chahal would not be ill-treated or tortured, the judge said.

Moreover, Mr Clarke had concluded that Mr Chahal represented 'a substantial risk' to national security because he had been involved in planning and directing terrorist attacks in India, the UK and elsewhere.

The judge also said that the Home Secretary was under no obligation to put all the evidence relating to national security matters before the court. It was enough for Mr Clarke to identify the grounds on which Mr Chahal was to be excluded. A request for bail pending an appeal was refused.