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The Punjab Disturbances

Volume 41: debated on Wednesday 28 July 1920

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My Lords, I desire to ask His Majesty's Government (1) Whether Dr. Bashir, whose proclamation was immediately effective in bringing a large mob to the Jallianwallah Bagh, was tried before three Judges and sentenced to death for waging war and being concerned in the murder of the bank managers; whether, although the convicted man had appealed to the Privy Council, his sentence was reviewed by two Judges whose opinions differed; whether he was released some time ago; whether any conditions were attached to his release; and whether he is now engaged in the Khalifat agitation at Amritsar. (2) Whether the Report of 25th August, 1919, on which General Dyer's action was condemned, was altered before being presented to Parliament by the omission of passages and phrases emphasising the gravity of the situation, and therefore helping to justify the necessity for stern measures.

My Lords, in answer to the first Question of the noble Lord, Dr. Muhammad Bashir was convicted under Sections 124A and 121 of the Indian Penal Code by a Martial Law Commission, and was sentenced to death. His sentence was reduced by Sir E. Maclagan, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, to one of six years' imprisonment. Some months later, when certain cases tried by Martial Law Commissions were referred by the Government of India and the Punjab Government to two High Court Judges for review, the two Judges agreed that that part of the case against Muhammad Bashir Din, relating to the events at the National Bank, rested on the uncorroborated testimony of an approver. One Judge was of the opinion that there was sufficient evidence to justify a conviction for waging war only, and the other Judge would not admit the sufficiency of the evidence to justify a conviction at all. The Punjab Government, in the circumstances, recommended the release, under Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code, of Muhammad Bashir Din on conditions, and the Government of India accepted this recommendation. The conditions imposed were: (1) that during the remaining term of the sentence he would not commit or abet the commission of any offence against the State or public tranquillity; (2) that during the same period he would not directly or indirectly take part in any movement directed against the State or public tranquillity, or likely to lead to the commission of any offence of the nature described above. If any of these conditions be not, in the opinion of the Local Government, fulfilled, the Local Government may cancel the suspension of the sentence. Muhammad Bashir has an appeal against his conviction pending before the Privy Council and I deprecate any discussion of the case at this stage. I do not know whether he is engaged in agitation at the present moment, but the noble Lord will see that it is open to the Local Government at any moment to direct his arrest, should they consider that he has failed to keep the conditions imposed upon him.

In reply to the second Question I have not seen the original of General Dyer's Report dated August 25, 1919, which has not been presented as a Parliamentary Paper. A copy is, however, included in Vol. III of the published evidence of the Hunter Committee, and, as there reproduced, is identical with the copy printed in October last by Army Headquarters in India, and sent to the India Office in December, except that, in the former, two letters written by missionaries to the Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, in July, 1919, on the subject of the manner in which Martial Law was administered, which form Appendix 16 of the latter, are omitted. I do not know why Lord Hunter's Committee omitted these enclosures.

In regard to my second Question, the Report to which I referred was edited in the sense I have there indicated; but I understand that the noble Lord has no information to that effect.