SC refuses bail to 56-yr-old French terror accused

Escalating tensions following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere found an echo in the Supreme Court and dashed the hopes of a 56-year-old French woman for interim release from Tihar Jail on health grounds.

Marie Emmanuelle Verhoeven, accused of murdering a Chilean senator in a terror strike in 1991, met disappointment on Tuesday when the court refused her plea.

Declaring that the court could not be seen to be soft on a person accused of terrorist activities in another country, Justice T S Thakur told counsel T R Andhyarujina and Ramni Taneja that the court would hear Verhoeven's case fully and with care, but ''we are not ready to release her now''.

She was arrested on 17 February 2015, in Uttar Pradesh on an Interpol Red Corner Notice while entering India through Nepal. She moved the court against any attempt to extradite her to Chile. Following the court's emphatic 'No', her lawyers were confronted with its alarm at the world's vulnerability to terror.

''Look at what is happening in the world, terrorists are striking at will,'' Justice Thakur, designated the next Chief Justice of India, said in an apparent reference to the Paris terror attacks, which shocked the world.

Justice Thakur, who led the bench including Justice Kurian Joseph, said there was no ''middle course'' for Verhoeven.

 ''I was only asking for release for humanitarian sake,'' Andhyarujina said.

''She is accused of terrorist activity. She is accused of links to subversive groups. We have no control over her. This also involves the bilateral relationship between two countries ... we cannot create any complications here,'' Justice Thakur observed, posting the case for 8 December.

The Centre banked on a treaty dating back to 1897 for her extradition to Chile to face murder charges. Additional Solicitor-General P S Patwalia told the court that Chile had written to India for her extradition as recently as 16 November.

But Andhyarujina questioned the woman's detention for about nine months. He submitted that her arrest was struck down by the Delhi High Court on 21 September. Counsel said the Red Corner Notice was cancelled on 30 May.

''What was the justification to keep her in custody for so long? Article 21 is not only applicable to citizens but also to foreigners,'' Justice Kurian asked the Centre.

Patwalia countered that ''everybody here is tried as per the law''.

He said a fresh arrest warrant was issued on 22 September on a fresh Note Verbale from Chilean authorities. He referred to Section 3 and 34 (B) of the Extradition Act, 1962, enjoining the Union government to arrest a fugitive criminal after securing warrant from a competent magistrate.

In her plea, the woman said she was being persecuted by the Chilean authorities for raising human rights issues there. She contended that the Indian government had unreasonably and without basis accepted an extradition request by Chile.

She is alleged to have participated in the assassination of Senator Jaime Guzman Errazuriz on 1 April, 1991.

She was visiting India for the fourth time on a Buddhist pilgrimage when she got embroiled in this trouble.