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Human Rights Watch urges India to investigate alleged overseas murder plots

Human Rights Watch have stated that the Indian government should conduct thorough and impartial investigations into allegations that government agents were involved in assassination plots against Sikh activists in the United States and Canada.

In a statement released on 15 December, the organisation notes the "Indian government’s systemic failures to prosecute security force personnel for extrajudicial killings and other serious abuses in India... raise broader concerns about its willingness to address transnational repression – abuses committed against nationals outside the country"

"India’s alleged involvement in assassination plots in the US and Canada suggests a new and notorious leap in extrajudicial killings,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian authorities’ repeated failure to hold police and military personnel accountable for unlawful killings demonstrates the need for more credible investigations.”

In September 2023, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of involvement in the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh activist leader, on June 18, in British Columbia. The Indian government dismissed the allegations as “absurd.”

On November 29, US authorities announced charges against an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, whom they allege was recruited by an unnamed Indian government official to arrange a contract killing of a Sikh activist leader in the US. The Indian authorities said such actions were “contrary to government policy” and announced a high-level inquiry committee to investigate the allegations.

While the indictment for conspiracy to commit murder does not name the intended target of the plot, it was widely reported to be Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the general counsel for the US-based Sikhs for Justice. The group advocates the secession of Punjab state from India to create the independent nation of Khalistan for Sikhs, a minority religious group in the country. The alleged plot was foiled by US authorities, according to the prosecutors.

The allegations of Indian government involvement in targeted killings abroad come amid increasing reports of serious human rights violations against activists in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has attempted to silence dissent using intimidation and harassment of critics through raids and arbitrary arrests, including under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the primary counterterrorism law. The Washington Post alleged online harassment, reporting that an organization linked to Indian intelligence agencies “combined fact-based research with unsubstantiated claims to paint U.S. government figures, researchers, humanitarian groups and Indian American rights activists as part of a conspiracy, purportedly led by global Islamic groups and billionaire George Soros, to undermine India.”

The BJP government’s ultranationalist ideology promoting Hindu supremacy has fueled and encouraged violence against religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, but also attempted to label Sikh farmers protesting against government agriculture laws as Sikh separatists. Police and other authorities have failed to hold supporters of the BJP and members of BJP-affiliated groups to account for violence, often instead targeting members of victim communities or their advocates.

Read more at Human Rights Watch 

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