Sikh For Justice's Gurpatwant Pannun Booked For Khalistan Flags in HP. Who's He?
The Himachal police had charged Pannun under the stringent UAPA on 9 May.
The Himachal Pradesh Police on Monday, 9 May, booked Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, one of the founders of the banned group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), in a case involving the hoisting of Khalistani flags outside the state Assembly complex in Dharamshala.
Pannun was booked as the main accused under Section 13 of the UAPA and Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, language, etc) and 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the HP Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement) Act, 1985.
The charges came in light of the upcoming Khalistan Referendum, slated to be held in Himachal Pradesh on 6 June.
But what is the SFJ? What does it stand for? And who is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun? Here is all you need to know.
What Is Sikhs For Justice?
The group, founded in the United Sates in 2007, aspires for Punjab's secession from India to establish an "independent and sovereign country" – Khalistan – in the state.
To read more about the Khalistan movement and its origins, click here.
Espousing the Khalistani cause, SFJ announced a separatist campaign called 'Referendum 2020' four years ago, which sought to end what it claimed is 'India's occupation of Punjab' and looked to substantiate a consensus over the issue among Punjabis across the world.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the group's legal advisor, had then said:
"SFJ, in its London Declaration, has announced to hold the first ever non-binding referendum among the global Sikh community on the question of secession from India and re-establishing Punjab as an independent country."
Following the London Declaration, as the movement acquired fervour, India's Union Cabinet outlawed SFJ, alleging anti-national activities, on July 2019.
The decision to ban the group was taken by the Centre, reportedly in consultation with the state governments, including the administration of Punjab.
The then chief minister of the state, Captain Amarinder Singh, applauded the ruling government's stance, saying that "the outfit deserved to be treated as a terrorist organisation."
"The government of India has at least taken a long-overdue stand against the SFJ, which had unleashed a wave of terror in Punjab in recent years," Singh was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, the reports of the referendum resumed to emerge erratically, with a voting exercise being held in London in November 2021.
As per a report by the Hindustan Times, while sympathisers of the cause claimed that 10,000 to 12,000 people had participated in the exercise, onlookers contended that a gathering of just 100-150 people was seen during the initial hours of the referendum.
It is important to note that the SFJ doesn't enjoy unqualified support even among Khalistan sympathisers.
For instance, two prominent pro-Khalistan outfits within India – Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) – have been deeply critical of the SFJ and the Referendum 2020 campaign. Both these outfits claim to be "striving towards Khalistan using peaceful means" and affirm that the SFJ's "referendum" has no legal validity.
Who Is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun?
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the legal advisor to SFJ, was reportedly spearheading the 'Referendum 2020' campaign. Pannun works as a lawyer in New York.
A year after SFJ was outlawed in India, the Punjab police registered two separate cases against Pannun, invoking charges relating to sedition and secessionism, officially recognising him as a terrorist in Indian territory.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had accused him of galvanising Indian youth to take up arms for the separatist cause.
The US-based lawyer was among nine other people who were classified as members of the terrorist outfit, and booked under the stringent provisions of UAPA.
As per information provided by the Institute of Conflict Management, Pannun was also found to be in contact with UK-based BKI terrorist Paramjit Singh alias Pamma, Canada-based Hardeep Singh Nijjar (KTF), Malkit Singh Fauji (ISYF/BKI), as well as several other activists involved with the cause worldwide.
What Was the Complaint Against Him?
According to the complaint filed by The Dalit Suraksha Sena (DSS), Pannun had incinerated a copy of the Indian Constitution and the national flag, and motivated others to do the same, news agency PTI reported.
A video of the incident reportedly captured the perpetrators raising slogans of Khalistan Zindabad. Further, the complaint said that the lawyer was provoking the Sikh community to support Referendum 2020.
These actions of the individuals in question had “brazenly dishonoured the ideals” fundamental to the establishment of the Indian State, and thereby had “hurt the sentiments” of the SC community, the complaint added.
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