Waris Punjab President, Bhai Amritpal Singh. (Photo: Prabhjot Gill)
New York, NY, March 18th, 2023: 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”. Bhai Amritpal Singh from Waris Punjab De (Heirs of Punjab , NGO) and more than 78 associates have been arrested in a state-wide cordon and search operation currently underway across Punjab in conjunction with the Union Home Ministry of India in view of the situation perpetuated by the Punjab Government.
We call on the Government of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to demand accountability from India and call for the immediate restoration of civil rights and internet services in Punjab. This resembles the beginning to follow a pattern as is being done in Indian-administered Kashmir which experiences more internet shutdowns and restrictions than any other region in 2022, including Iran and Russia, as per a news report. Kashmir is ranked alongside Russia — where Moscow moved to cut access to social media and news amid its invasion of Ukraine.
(Supporters of the Waris Punjab De chief shared unconfirmed videos of the police giving chase to his cavalcade in Moga district and the vehicle speeding to Shahkot near Jalandhar. Courtesy: Express Photo)
VFF is deeply concerned in the manner in which Bhai Amritpal Singh and his team members were arrested. No arrest warrant issued for his arrest or any news in that regard has surfaced. A special police team composed of over 100 police cars began to pursue his convoy. Police forces from eight districts were deployed to facilitate the arrest. According to reports, at least 78 persons have so far been taken into custody. The Sikhs worldwide and in India are in a state of confusion around Bhai Amritpal Singh’s detention as this may be used to orchestrate a false encounter and facilitate his extrajudicial murder. This tactic is common in India and was commonly used by the Punjab police through the 80’s and 90’s to eliminate Sikh activists through false encounters or in jail. The death in custody of Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a renowned human rights and social justice advocate, is recorded as a stain on India’s human rights record, said by Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in India.
Bhai Amritpal Singh as a civil and human rights activist seeks for self-determination of the Sikhs in Punjab, and openly highlights discrimination against the Sikh community in India. He also has a running successful campaign to inspire Punjabi youth to reject drugs and embrace the Sikh faith. Instead of the State agencies engaging in a dialogue and recognizing the efforts of his NGO, this has met with serious criticism by the state. The Indian government’s actions are known for resorting to increasingly repressive tactics to shut down critical voices and groups working to promote, protect, and uphold fundamental rights. Amnesty International in India had to shut down their operations. The Civil Society and Freedom of Association is deteriorating. It is conditioned and met by the Indian government with fabricated stories of either the activists being facilitated or stooges of political parties (BJP, Congress, AAP), and if not, they are supported by the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI. This has been the rhetoric for years with a single intent to confuse and muffle the voices of the educated masses.
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.
Voices For Freedom President, Parminder Singh said, “The Indian authorities in a pattern have put in efforts to silence civil society activists and independent journalists by using politically motivated criminal charges, including terrorism, to jail those exposing or criticizing government abuses. The government used foreign funding regulations and allegations of financial irregularities to harass rights groups, political opponents, and others. The government of India should answer the questions raised by Bhai Amritpal and answer the 37 million strong Sikh community the reasons for his arrests and that of his aides. VFF fears the extrajudicial killings of Sikh activists in the guise of fake encounters in the current circumstances, and will bring this to the attention of the world governments.”