Assassin? Terrorist? Left extremist? Fugitive? Or, none of these?
For seven months, Marie Emmanuelle Verhoeven, a 55-year-old French national lodged in a Tihar cell, has been waging a desperate battle to block her extradition to Chile where she is wanted as a suspect in the killing of Jaime Guzmán Errázuriz, a senator under the Pinochet regime. Months after the collapse of the military dictatorship, Errázuriz was assassinated in 1991.
The Chilean authorities said the Far Left group Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front carried out the killing, that Verhoeven was a suspect because of her links to the organisation. Verhoeven, a member of the Latin American Economic and Social Committee, lived in Chile from 1985 to 1995. During her stay there, she took part in human rights missions.
According to Ramni Taneja, the lawyer who is fighting her case in Delhi, Verhoeven was an Officer of the Prison Administration in Chile. In 1987, she joined the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the
Caribbean (UNECLAC) in Santiago as a special rapporteur. She claims she is being “politically persecuted by the Government of Chile because she bravely defended the human rights of prisoners in Chile”.
The Chilean authorities approached Interpol and a Red Corner Notice was put out for Verhoeven. On January 25, 2014, she was arrested at Hamburg airport by German police. But she was freed on June 6, 2014 after a German court rejected a plea for her extradition to Chile. Ruling in her favour, the court said the right to recover freedom during one’s life is protected under Germany’s constitution.
Barely seven months later, Verhoeven ended up in Tihar.
On February 16 this year, she was stopped on the Indo-Nepal border at Sunauli as she tried to enter Uttar Pradesh — this was her third trip to the country. Indian authorities, acting on the Red Corner Notice, arrested her saying she was a “fugitive criminal” wanted in Chile for a terror attack in which a senator had been killed.
Ever since, it has been visits to the courts from Tihar and back.
On Monday, the Delhi High Court declared her detention “illegal” and directed Tihar officials to release her. But a day later, the Centre again moved a Delhi district court, seeking her “provisional arrest” for the purpose of extradition.
In documents produced in court, there is a letter from the Embassy of Chile to the Ministry of External Affairs which states “…since the liberty has already been allowed to Union of India for initiating afresh steps for extradition of fugitive criminal, it is kindly and urgently requested to the Union of India to provisional arrest for extradition of FC”.
The court sent Verhoeven to judicial custody until October 1.
On Wednesday, Verhoeven told Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ajay Garg: “I have visited the country thrice with a valid passport. I am a devotee of the Buddhist faith and my visit to India was for spiritual reasons. My detention is illegal. When the German court and Delhi High Court have given me a clean chit, why have I been again arrested?”
ACMM Garg asked her, “Did the jail authorities supply you copies of the arrest warrant last evening? Do you have any apprehension?”
She replied: “There is a man who is always in the court. I fear he is a Chilean agent. I want protection.”
At this, the court said: “Please move an application for in-camera proceedings if you do not want anyone to be present in court. Your protection will be ensured.”
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