More than two years after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh handed over a dossier to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau containing ‘evidence’ against nine Sikh men from that country who “had been abetting terrorism” in Punjab, the state police have failed to prove charges against at least one of them.
Those named in the dossier included Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Malkiat Singh Fauji, Gurjit Singh Cheema, Gurpreet Singh Lande and Gurjinder Singh Pannu. They were accused of involved in recruiting terrorists, terror funding, procuring and supplying weapons and explosives, and even arranging to train recruits in handling firearms.
Among these, Cheema’s name had first emerged after the Border Security Force arrested two Nihang Sikhs – Maan Singh and Sher Singh – from near the India-Pakistan border in Amritsar on May 21, 2017. As per the an FIR lodged at the Ramdas police station the same day, Maan Singh, a resident of Samrai village near Gurdaspur, and Sher Singh, a resident of Jalandhar, had links with terrorists in Canada and Pakistan. The FIR said that they were nabbed by the BSF while trying to recover an illegal consignment of weapons smuggled from Pakistan. During the course of investigation five more names were added. All the accused were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Foreigners Act apart from relevant sections under the Arms Act.
Based on the investigation, the police had claimed Maan Singh and Sher Singh had been touch with “Gurjit Singh Cheema alias Gurjivan Singh, who had arranged the weapons from Pakistan”.
As per the dossier handed over to Trudeau, Cheema, originally a resident of village Jogi Cheema village in Punjab’s Gurdaspur was living at house number 72, Ironblock Drive, Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Among others Cheema, the dossier said, was an active handler of alleged Khalistani terrorists, was associated with Pakistan-based International Sikh Youth Federation, and also an accused in the targeted killings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shiv Sena leaders in Punjab in 2016-17. It was also alleged that he has been involved with recruiting and training youngsters from Punjab in India for the ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign.
The Punjab Police, however, failed to prove charges framed against Cheema in the 2017 case. The court found the charges levelled against Cheema under the UAPA to be unsubstantiated. In fact, all the seven accused in the case – Maan Singh, Sher Singh, Balwinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Simarjeet Singh, Balkar Singh and Satinder Rawat – were acquitted under the UAPA on October 26. Cheema, named by the Punjab government for trying to create disturbance in the state, was not even made a proclaimed offender in the case that was investigated by the Special Operations Cell.
Out of the seven, four were held guilty under Arms Act. The court convicted Maan Singh and Sher Singh under Arms Act and sentenced them to 10-year imprisonment. Gurpreet Singh and Simarjeet Singh were jailed for three years.
The police had claimed that the “terrorists during preliminary interrogation” have said their module was raised and indoctrinated by Ontario-based Sikh hardliner Gurjivan Singh, who was in touch with them for the past two years, and had motivated them to commit terror strikes in Punjab. “Gurjivan made two trips to Punjab and had arranged the arms and ammunition for their operations through his Pakistan-based Khalistani contacts..Gurjivan had imparted them theoretical training on handling arms, including the AK-47 rifle,” Police had said .
During arguments, prosecution had in the chargesheet accused Cheema of recruiting new members for terror activities. “They (Maan Singh and Sher Singh) were going to receive huge cache of weapons for doing terrorist activities, and same was brought from Pakistan border. During investigation, it came to notice that Gurjit Singh and Gurpreet Singh Canada were having links with Lakhbir Singh Rode, president of International Sikh Youth Federation and Lakhbir Singh Rode with the help of Khalistan Liberation Force head Harmeet Singh. Intelligence agencies of Pakistan had tried to send huge quantity of weapons and ammunition to Maan Singh and Sher Singh through India-Pak Border and they had to collect it on May 21, 2017. Gurjit Singh had sent a screenshot of a site plan of the place from his mobile phone to the mobile phone of Maan Singh. Maan Singh and Sher Singh, after their arrest, led to recovery of these on May 21, 2017,” read the chargesheet copy.
Lakhbir Singh Rode is nephew of slain terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and brother of former Akal Takht Jathedar (leader) Jasbir Singh Rode.
However, part of judgement on Cheema read, “Gurjit Singh received Rs 22,50,000 in total through Western Union, out of which, some money was handed over to Maan Singh for service of Gurdwara Sahib and remaining was handed over to Gurjit Singh, but police has failed to prove, or brought on record, where this money was spent. Moreover, in the presence of whom, the said money was given, neither has been named, nor examined…In case, Gurjit Singh was running a society ‘Khalsa Sewa Club’ in Canada, then money should be received from that Club, but it was never… Moreover, the police failed to prove that Khalsa Club is carrying out any illegal activities…they have only supposed but not proved or could prove it on record. Therefore…it is not proved, if it was used for unlawful activities.”
Soon after their arrests on May 21, 2017, police had allowed Maan Singh and Sher Singh to talk to the media, where they had said that they wanted to take revenge over incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. However, police failed to prove that too in the court.
The court said: “So far as charges famed under UAPA, 1967 are concerned, in this regard, prosecution has to prove cogent and convincing evidence. However, prosecution has failed to prove, if earlier also, the accused were involved in any unlawful activities. Secondly, prosecution has failed to prove, if arms and ammunition were purchased by them through Balkar Singh, Balwinder Singh and Satinder Singh Rawat to take revenge of sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in state of Punjab.”
In October last year, Interpol, acting on India’s request, had issued “red notices” against eight Khalistani militants based in different countries, including cheema. Those named in the list included KLF leader Harmeet Singh PhD in Pakistan; Gurjinder Singh Pannu, and Gurpreet Singh based in Canada; Jagdish Singh Bhura in Belgium; and Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) leader Gurmit Singh Bagga alias Doctor in Germany.
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