US Sikh groups demand India release illegally detained political prisoners

and end Gurbaksh Singh’s hunger strike
By Anju Kaur | December 21, 2013
Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based advocacy group, initiates a letter writing campaign in an appeal to the UN to help secure the release of Sikh political prisoners illegally detained by India beyond their sentences.

Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based advocacy group, initiates a letter writing campaign in an appeal to the UN to help secure the release of Sikh political prisoners illegally detained by India beyond their sentences.

US Sikh advocacy groups are outraged at India’s defiance in ending Gurbaksh Singh’s 37-day-old hunger strike over the government’s continued illegal detention of Sikh political prisoners who have served out their sentences.

Gurbaksh Singh began a hunger strike on Nov. 14 to protest the incarceration of several hundred Sikhs being held indefinitely under India’s unjust counterinsurgency laws, which are considered a violation of international judicial norms. 

The government’s only response has been to have the Punjab police kidnap Gurbaksh Singh, US Sikh organizations complained.  He was inside a gurdwara on the night of Dec. 6 when nearly 50 Indian police officers rushed in and took him to the Ropar jail where they tried to force-feed him. He was released on Dec. 8, under pressure from public protests.

“Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, has made no public statement about Gurbaksh Singh's hunger strike, while Parkash Singh Badal, the Chief Minister of Punjab, ordered the unlawful detention of Gurbaksh Singh for his peaceful protest, before releasing him due to public pressure,” said Ensaaf, a California-based group investigating the decade of extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of Sikhs by the Punjab government following the 1984 attack on Harmandar Sahib, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh pogroms. India’s tyrannical judicial strategies persist today.

Ensaaf is demanding that India review cases against Sikh prisoners detained under counterinsurgency laws and release those who have served their sentences or have been illegally detained. Jakara, in California, Sikh Coalition, in New York, Sikh Research Institute, in Texas, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in Washington, and United Sikhs, in New York, also joined Ensaaf’s in its demand, in a Dec. 19 news release.

Under Indian law, a life sentence lasts 14 years. But many Sikhs have been incarcerated in Indian jails beyond the term of the sentence. According to a Dec. 20 news release from the World Sikh Council – America Region, a coalition of 54 gurdwaras and organizations, at lease 237 inmates from Punjab and Haryana have completed their life sentences but have not been released. Many more are illegally incarcerated in India’s other states.

“There is strong concern that the state bodies and representatives are not taking any action,” the council said. “WSC-AR demands that an appropriate judicial review of the cases highlighted by Bhai Gurbaksh Singh be undertaken and those who have either completed their sentences or have no cases against them be released immediately by the Indian government.”

On Dec. 18, Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based human rights group, also initiated a letter-writing campaign asking for United Nations intervention. The group is asking Sikhs to download a pre-written letter of complaint, sign it and email it to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“I am writing to file a complaint and urgent appeal to secure the release of Sikh prisoners of conscience who are being deprived of their liberty by being imprisoned in India for years beyond the sentenced term of prison in egregious violation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law,” the letter says.

Gurbaksh Singh specifically mentioned six prisoners who have been under detention from 18 to 23 years, Sikhs for Justice said in its news release. According to the UN’s mandate against arbitrary detention, no country has any legal basis to justify the deprivation of liberty as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of a prison sentence.

“The actions of Indian government related to continuous arbitrary detention of Sikh prisoners of conscience violate every norm of democracy, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International laws,” Sikh for Justice said. The letter asks the UN to secure the release of the six Sikh prisoners of conscience.

_________________________From Sikh News Network archives.