Punjab police link Canadians to terror cell

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and two Sikh cabinet ministers have joined a chorus of international complaints about the alleged torture of a British national held in Punjab, India on suspicion of being involved in the targeted killings of Hindu leaders.

Jagtar Singh Johal aka Jaggi, a British national of Indian origin was arrested by the Punjab Police recently after a terror cell allegedly involved in targeted killings of Hindu leaders in the past two years, was busted.

Police in Punjab have rejected claims that the suspect was being tortured and issued a statement outlining the alleged terrorist’s connections to individuals in Brampton, Ontario and Surrey, B.C. both considered hotbeds for the Khalistani movement seeking a separate homeland for the Sikhs.

Canadian minister of infrastructure and communities Amarjeet Sohi, who was himself branded a terrorist and tortured in police custody after he was arrested in 1988 in Bihar, tweeted, "From my own experience, everyone should have access to human rights and a fair trial. I have great sympathy for Jagtar Singh Johal."

While re-tweeting Sohi, Canadian defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan posted on his Twitter handle, "I echo my colleague's comments and greatly concerned about these reports. Human rights need to be respected."

Two other MPs from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party have also raised the matter in a letter with India’s High Commissioner in Ottawa, Vikas Swarup. The letter was sent by Raj Grewal, who represents Brampton East in the House of Commons, and Randeep Sarai, MP for Surrey Centre.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s federal New Democratic Party (NDP) who also waded into the controversy said “reports of torture including electrocution” by “Indian authorities” were “deeply chilling and require immediate attention.”

Tweeting a report from the BBC, Singh noted , “The allegations of torture should rattle lovers of democracy and human rights to their innermost core.”

Mukhbir Singh, president of the World Sikh Organisation (WSO) said they were “alarmed by the treatment received by Jagtar Singh Johal in Indian custody.”

He also found it “unacceptable that he has allegedly been subjected to torture in custody. We had seen these kinds of abductions and arrests during the 1980s and 1990s but it is shocking that they continue today.”

The WSO statement said, despite being a UK citizen, Johal was denied access to a lawyer or consular services during the first days of his incarceration. He has told his lawyer that for the first three days he was subjected to torture such as electrical shocks and ‘body separation’ techniques.”

Speaking to HT, Punjab DGP Suresh Arora denied human rights violation in Johal’s investigation. “We are investigating the case with sincerity and as per the law. We have gathered enough proof against Johal and other accused in the case,” said the DGP.

Last weekend, a Punjab police spokesman trashed media reports about the allegations of a frame-up and torture.

“Not only did we have sufficient evidence to prove the complicity of Jagtar alias Jaggi in the cases of targeted killings, the police had also ensured that there was no violation of his rights at any stage,” the police spokesperson said.

“Besides being allowed to talk to his family members after his arrest, Jaggi was produced before a Judicial Magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest as laid down under the Criminal Procedure Code. The British High Commission was duly informed about the arrest of Jaggi, whose medical examination was also conducted as required under the procedure,” the spokesperson said.

The British Deputy High Commissioner in Chandigarh was in touch with Punjab’s Director General of Police, said the spokesperson, adding that the envoy did not question the arrest of Jaggi.

“Jaggi has been found by the police to be a staunch supporter of terrorist activities in Punjab,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that there was a huge pile of evidence against Jaggi, who had been produced before the court several times and taken on police remand as per the court’s orders, before he was sent on judicial remand to Faridkot Jail on November 17.

“Jaggi’s medical examination has also been conducted regularly since his arrest from Dakoha Fatak in Jalandhar on November 4,” said the spokesperson, adding that his family members and relatives were allowed to meet him.

“Further, on November 15, Jagpreet Singh Chaddha, a lawyer, met Jaggi between 8 and 9 p.m. The next day, a team from the UK High Commission in New Delhi, comprising Margaret Partridge and Amit Kotecha, consular officers, met Jagtar Singh,” the spokesperson said.

Giving ‘details’ of Jaggi’s involvement in conspiracy, coordination, funding and arranging of weapons for members of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) module busted in connection with the targeted killings, the spokesperson said the accused came in contact with Gursharanbir Singh, also a British national based in Coventry, UK, who was involved in the killing of Rulda Singh, President of Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, Punjab, in July 2009.

He said the Canada-based militant leaders Gurpreet Singh in Vancouver and Gurjeet Cheema in Toronto had also supplied arms to the terror cell between last May and June.

According to the police spokesman; “Jaggi, along with his family members, went to Surrey, Canada, in August 2016, and met militant elements Satinderpal Singh Gill, Maninder Singh Bual and Parupkar Singh in Surrey, British Columbia.

“Gursharanbir Singh from UK also came to Surrey and Jaggi met him to discuss ways of reviving militancy in Punjab,” said the spokesperson.

Since 2012, The Indian government has issued pointed and public warnings to Ottawa to mind what they see as alarming evidence of Sikh extremism on Canadian soil.

The issue of internal extremism has been one that has shaken India to the core over the past several decades — former prime minister Indira Gandhi was murdered by her own Sikh bodyguards after a string of events sparked by fundamentalists seeking their own separate, fundamentalist nation they would call Khalistan.

Canada too has been rocked by related terrorism. Police believe the bombing of a 1985 Air India flight that killed 331 people was orchestrated by Sikh extremists based in Canada.

Pockets of pro-Khalistan support are still visible in the Indo-Canadian community, after years of dormancy.

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