Monday June 17, 2024

India seizes assets of Khalistan leader in Punjab

The group, which has been banned by India, has been a vocal advocate for the creation of Khalistan

By Murtaza Ali Shah & Ag Afp
September 24, 2023
Hardeep Singh Nijjar (left) and Gurpatwant Singh Pannun who has been killed by India. — Provided by the reporter
Hardeep Singh Nijjar (left) and Gurpatwant Singh Pannun who has been killed by India. — Provided by the reporter

NEW DELHI/LONDON: India’s top investigation agency confiscated Saturday the properties of Sikh separatist and close ally of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whose killing has sparked a diplomatic row between India and Canada. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a lawyer believed to be based in Canada, was designated as a terrorist by Indian authorities in 2020 and is wanted on charges of terrorism and sedition.

He is also the founder of the US-based group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), whose Canada chapter was headed by Nijjar before he was gunned down by masked assailants in June near Vancouver.

The group, which has been banned by India, has been a vocal advocate for the creation of Khalistan.

Pannun jumped into the raging row and issued a video telling Canadian Hindus to “go back to India”, claiming they had adopted a “jingoistic approach” by siding with New Delhi.

In an interview with an Indian news channel, Pannun said Nijjar had been his “close associate” for over 20 years and was like a “younger brother” to him. He also blamed India for Nijjar’s killing.

Soon after his interview was aired, the Indian government issued an advisory to news networks asking them to refrain from giving a platform to people accused of “heinous crimes”.

Armed with court orders, officials of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Saturday confiscated Pannun’s house in Chandigarh, the capital of the Sikh-majority state of Punjab, it said in a statement.

The NIA also confiscated agricultural land belonging to him in Amritsar, it added.

It accused Pannun of “actively exhorting Punjab-based gangsters and youth” on social media “to fight for the cause of independent state of Khalistan, challenging the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country”.

Meanwhile, the leader of pro-Khalistan Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has claimed that India cannot silence and blackmail him by occupying his assets in Indian Punjab and by registering false cases against him.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun spoke after India’s federal anti-terror agency on Saturday said it has confiscated the properties of Pannun whom it accuses of terror activities in India – following Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s public and shocking accusation that India was behind the assassination of pro-Khalistan Canadian leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar who was a friend and ally of Pannun.

The seizure of a house and land owned by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in India’s northern state of Punjab “comes as a big boost to the country’s crackdown on the terror and secessionist network being operated from various countries, including Canada,” a statement issued by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said.

SFJ General Counsel Pannun said India was desperate and in a state of shock over the success of Khalistan Referendum campaign which has mobilised tens of thousands of Sikhs in the UK, Canada, Europe and America through Khalistan Referendum voting.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said on the seizure of his property in Punjab by the NIA, “The issue at the heart of the conflict with India is not the properties of an individual – Pannun. The issue is about the land of the Sikh people -- Punjab -- that is forcefully occupied by India and the resources of the indigenous people of Punjab that are being plundered by Delhi. Khalistan Referendum 2025 loaded with millions of votes is going to be ‘Sikhs’ Surgical Strike’ against India that will liberate Punjab to create Democratic Republic of Khalistan (DRK) where people of all religions are going to have equal status, rights and freedoms.”

In 2020, India asked Interpol to issue a Red Corner Notice (RCN) against Pannun, alleging him to be a terrorist but after review of the case, Interpol rejected India’s request on the grounds that India has failed to produce any evidence linking Pannun with any act of violence or terrorism anywhere in the world, including India. Interpol further held that India is seeking RCN against Pannun because of his human rights activism and his political campaign, the Khalistan Referendum.

Over the last few years, India has asked the USA and Canada to take action against Pannun but these governments took no action due to lack of evidence and failure of India to back up its claims.

Tensions between India and Canada have escalated after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada had credible intelligence linking Indian government agents to the murder of Najjar who was President of Khalistan Referendum chapter in Canada, under the banner of Sikhs For Justice which has been spearheading the voting campaign.

This isn’t the first time India has acted against Pannun. He has faced several cases in India over the last several years. According to Indian media reports, the New York based lawyer faces over 25 criminal cases in India. The NIA, in its latest action, seized properties of Pannun in Chandigarh, and Amritsar.

Last week, Pannun called on the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to immediately expel India’s High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Verma after the Canadian prime minister confirmed that the Indian government was behind Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s assassination in Vancouver around three months ago. “Over the past a number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” Trudeau said, addressing the House of Commons about an “extremely serious matter,” after informing the opposition party leaders.

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said the head of Indian intelligence in Canada Pavan Kumar Rai has been expelled as a consequence. “If proven true this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other,” Joly said. “As a consequence, we have expelled a top Indian diplomat.”

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun had said, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement in Parliament corroborates SFJ’s stance on Nijjar’s assassination. SFJ has been saying since the day of assassination of Nijjar that this is handy work of Indian agencies and Indian agents active on Canadian soil. Nijjar has been assassinated by India for leading the Canadian Chapter of Khalistan Referendum. That is why SFJ has given a call for holding ‘Shaheed Nijjar Referendum’ on October 29 in Surrey BC.

“We ask PM Trudeau to declare Sanjay Verma, Indian High Commissioner to Canada, as persona non grata and expel him from Canada with immediate effect. SFJ has been writing to PM Trudeau voting him about Indian intervention since 2022 when we had first voted for the Khalistan Referendum in Toronto September 18, 2022. After Nijjar’s assassination, we again wrote to the Prime Minister. It’s now urgent that the Indian diplomats are held accountable.”