(CN) - An Indian who was arrested, beaten and tortured by Punjab police hunting for a suspected Kashmiri terrorist is eligible for U.S. asylum, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
Kamalpal Singh claims that police in the town of Jullandar, Punjab, arrested him twice in 2006 and brutally beat him during interrogations to determine the whereabouts of Singh's former domestic servant, Jabed Khan.
The arrest occurred shortly after Khan took a vacation and then disappeared, Singh claimed. He said police held him for two days while they interrogated him about Khan, whom they believed was a known Kashmiri terrorist.
When Singh denied knowing anything about Kahn's alleged terrorist activities or his whereabouts, his interrogators allegedly used brutal methods.
"One officer grabbed his hair and struck him repeatedly in the face," the ruling states. "The other officers then pushed him to the ground while one held his hands together and another restrained him by placing his knee on Singh's neck. At the same time, another officer beat Singh with a bamboo stick and leather belt. The police beat him for ten to fifteen minutes at a time and then continued interrogating him. When Singh apparently persuaded them that he had no information to offer them, the officers stripped his pants off and used them as a pulley by which they hung him upside down until he lost consciousness. The police then alternated between hanging Singh upside down and beating him. He was beaten about five or six times during the course of his two-day detention."
The interrogators let Singh go after his family and friends paid them 50,000 rupees, or about $1,100. Police nevertheless arrested Singh again a few weeks later and put him through another violent interrogation. After his family came up with another bribe, this time 80,000 rupees, about $1,750, Singh fled to the United States.
Singh told an immigration judge that he feared being returned to India, and said that his wife had even been arrested and beaten in his absence. Despite finding him credible and likely to be tortured if returned home, an immigration judge denied Singh's request for asylum and withholding of removal.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) later agreed that Singh had failed to show that he faced persecution in Punjab based on his political opinions, finding that the local police instead had a "legitimate reason to arrest, detain, and question" Singh, and that he was therefore ineligible for asylum.
A 9th Circuit disagreed, 2-1, Tuesday and granted the now 51-year-old Singh's petition for review.
"Singh's credible testimony regarding the police officers' statements about him persuasively demonstrates that a central motive for persecuting him was that they believed that he opposed the government," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority in San Francisco. "The police targeted Singh and imputed anti-government views to him because of his relationship with another individual who they considered held anti-government political beliefs."
U.S. District Judge Lloyd George, sitting on the panel by designation from Las Vegas, argued that Punjabi police had detained and interrogated Singh not for his political beliefs, but because they wanted to find Kahn.
"The evidence, both direct and circumstantial, shows that the reason for the police's arrest and mistreatment of Singh was an effort only to obtain information about Khan, a suspected terrorist," George wrote. "Singh's own testimony confirmed it. The IJ found that testimony credible, and integrated it into his ruling that Singh had not demonstrated a nexus between the actions of the police and protected political opinion. The BIA concurred with the IJ's determination. Now, the majority rejects it all. I cannot agree to pay lip service to the IJ's credibility determination while at the same time ignoring the record upon which that determination stands."
He added that the "police at no time accused Singh of being a terrorist himself; at no time during Singh's torture did they attempt to exact from him a confession to being a terrorist; and at no time did their actions deviate from what was, according to the evidence, an interrogation to gain information about Khan, not one where Singh's political opinion made him a terrorist suspect."
The panel remanded the case to the BIA with instructions that "the Attorney General exercise his discretion whether to grant Singh asylum."