Ottawa (March 18, 2023): The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) condemns the security operations in Punjab to arrest Sikh leader, Bhai Amritpal Singh. Indian authorities have announced the mass suspension of internet services across Punjab until 12pm Sunday citing a threat to “public order by incitement to violence”. State-wide cordon and search operations are currently underway across Punjab.
In addition to the mass arrests of associates of Bhai Amritpal Singh and other Sikh activists, section 144 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure has also been invoked in multiple areas in Punjab. The colonial-era law prohibits the gathering of four or more people and those found in violation of the order can be charged with rioting.
The WSO fears the extrajudicial killings of Sikh activists in the guise of ‘fake encounters’ in the current circumstances.
Bhai Amritpal Singh, head of the Waris Punjab De (Heirs of Punjab) organization, has recently come to prominence in Punjab with his successful campaign to inspire Punjabi youth to reject drugs and embrace the Sikh faith. Amritpal Singh has also been open and unapologetic in his support for Khalistan, a sovereign Sikh state, as well as highlighting discrimination against the Sikh community in India.
Today, as Bhai Amritpal Singh was traveling to a religious program, a special police team comprised of over 100 police cars began to pursue his convoy. Police forces from eight districts were deployed to facilitate the arrest. According to initial reports, after a chase, Bhai Amritpal Singh and his companions were taken into custody and transported to an undisclosed location. In a recent news release however, the Punjab government has said that Bhai Amritpal Singh is not in custody and a manhunt is taking place to find and arrest him.
Bhai Amritpal Singh’s village, Jallupur Khera in Baba Bakala District of Amritsar, has been sealed and surrounded by police and India’s Rapid Action Force. All major roads in Punjab currently have checkpoints by paramilitary forces. There are also reports of Sikh activists across Punjab being detained by police. According to reports, at least 78 persons have so far been taken into custody.
No reasons have been provided by the government for these draconian measures or for the arrest of Bhai Amritpal Singh and his companions. Indian colonial-era laws like the National Security Act, allow authorities to detain individuals without charge for up to 12 months.
The suspension of civil liberties in Punjab will also impact other protests taking place in the state such as the Quami Insaaf Morcha (National Justice Agitation) in Mohali which is calling for the release of Sikh political prisoners, and also the commemorations of the first anniversary of the murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala which were scheduled for tomorrow.
WSO President Tejinder Singh Sidhu said today,
“The suspension of the internet in Punjab along with deployment of paramilitary forces to arrest Bhai Amritpal Singh and other Sikh activists is deeply disturbing. State-wide blackouts have been a tool of genocide and were used in 1984 to facilitate the mass killing of Sikhs by the Indian state. The Indian state has once again demonstrated that it is willing to suspend civil liberties arbitrarily, without justification, using colonial-era laws. Today’s extreme and oppressive measures appear to have clear political motivations to silence Bhai Amritpal Singh and intimidate his supporters into silence.
The Government of India has repeatedly demonstrated that Sikhs are not equal citizens and that their rights and freedoms can be suspended at will. Rather than focussing on the drug epidemic in Punjab and arresting major drug traffickers, Indian authorities are focused on silencing those advocating on behalf of the Sikh community and working to save Punjab’s youth.
We are also deeply concerned that the confusion around Bhai Amritpal Singh’s detention may be used to orchestrate a false encounter and facilitate his extrajudicial murder. This tactic was commonly used by the Punjab police through the 80’s and 90’s to eliminate Sikh activists.
We call on the Canadian Government to demand accountability from India and call for the immediate restoration of civil rights and internet services in Punjab. Bhai Amritpal Singh and other Sikh activists taken into custody must be provided with due justice and must not be harmed. It is incumbent on the Indian government to explain the urgency behind these arrests and to explain why such draconian measures have been imposed across Punjab.”
The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights of all individuals.
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