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Explained: What is ‘Sikhs For Justice’, and why has NIA summoned many in a case against it?

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has issued summons to over 40 persons in connection with a case registered against the US-based Sikhs for Justice. What is SFJ, and what is the case against it?  

Written by Navjeevan Gopal , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: January 22, 2021 2:35:01 pm
The face of SFJ Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, left, a protest in New York organised by Sikhs for Justice in 2015 (File photos)

From actors to singers and farm activists to journalists, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has issued summons to over 40 persons in connection with a case registered against the US-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in mid-December, inviting the ire of farm organisations who claim the government is targeting individuals opposing the three farm laws.

What is the case in which people backing the farm agitation are being summoned by the NIA?

On December 15, the NIA registered a case in New Delhi under Section 120 B (Criminal Conspiracy), 124 A (Sedition), 153 A (Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153 B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) of Indian Penal Code and under sections of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Incidentally, the case was registered around a fortnight after farm activists reached Delhi border to lodge their protest against the farm acts.

According to the FIR registered by the NIA, “Sikhs for Justice, an unlawful association under the UAPA Act and other Khalistani terrorist outfits including but not limited to Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Tiger Force and Khalistan Zindabad Force along with their frontal organisations, have entered into a conspiracy to create an atmosphere of fear and lawlessness and to cause disaffection in people and to incite them towards rising in rebellion against the government of India. In furtherance of the above conspiracy, huge funds are being collected abroad for on-ground campaign and propaganda against missions in countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Germany and so forth.”

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The FIR stated that the “campaigns are being spearheaded by designated terrorists — Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Paramjit Singh Pamma, Hardeep Singh Nijjar and others”.

“It has also been learnt that large amounts of funds so collected are being sent through NGOs to pro-Khalistani elements based in India, to undertake terrorist acts and to strike terror in the people of India. SFJ leadership has planned large scale disruptive activities intended to damage government and private property and also disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of the community in India. SFJ and other pro-Khalistani elements involved in this conspiracy, through their inacessant social media campaign and otherwise, are radicalising and recruiting impressionable youth to agitate and undertake terrorist acts for creation of separate nation of Khalistan after secession from Indian territory,” it added.

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What is Sikhs for Justice?

Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) formed in 2007, is a US-based group seeking a separate homeland for Sikhs — a “Khalistan” in Punjab. SFJ legal advisor Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a law graduate from Panjab University and currently an attorney at law in the US, is the face of SFJ and its legal adviser.

Panun had launched the secessionist Sikh Referendum 2020 campaign, an initiative that eventually became defunct. He was among the nine individuals designated as “terrorists” by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs last July.

‘Referendum 2020’, claimed it wanted to “liberate Punjab from Indian occupation”. In Pannun’s words, “SFJ in its London Declaration (in August 2018) had 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.” However, its London declaration even got little traction.

What are NIA notices about and who have been summoned?

A tourist bus operator, a nut bolt trader and a cable operator from Ludhiana, three journalists from Punjab, three volunteers of UK based NGO Khalsa Aid, and the president of Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society (LBIWS), one of the unions participating in talks with the Government over the new farm laws, are among those who have been served notices by the NIA in connection with the sedition case registered against Pannun.

NIA has served notices under Section 16 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), meaning they have been summoned as witnesses. A senior NIA official wishing not to be named said the persons were summoned in connection with “foreign funding in guise of the farm agitation to further secessionist agenda of Khalistan.”

What has been the political reaction to the NIA summons?

The Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party leadership in Punjab have cried foul over the NIA summons to those backing the farm stir.

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