• Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Family of Sikh activist urges fresh investigation into his death

Avtar Singh Khanda’s family lawyer, Michael Polak, emphasised that the Home Office decision to initiate an investigation would address concerns within the Sikh community

A portrait of late Sikh activist Avtar Singh Khanda (L) is hanged on a wall in the Panjab Broadcasting Channel television station studio, where he previously worked, alongside a portrait of his father Kulwant Singh Khukhrana (R), in Smethwick, near Birmingham, central England, on October 18, 2023 (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

The family of the late Sikh activist Avtar Singh Khanda has urged the Home Office to appoint a police force for a comprehensive and impartial investigation into his sudden death last June, which took place at the same time as a murder and an attempted murder of Sikh separatists in Canada and the US, The Guardian reported.

They believe this move could assuage the fears of Sikhs residing in the UK regarding potential targeting by India. Khanda’s family lawyer, Michael Polak, emphasised that the Home Office decision to initiate an investigation would address concerns within the Sikh community.

There’s a worry that their safety and rights might be compromised due to “political expediency.”
The Home Office declined to provide any comment regarding this matter.

At the heart of the controversy is the case of the 35-year-old asylum seeker, Khanda, who resided in Birmingham and actively supported the Khalistan movement, advocating for the establishment of a separate Sikh state.

On June 15, Khanda died in a Birmingham hospital, diagnosed later as a case of acute myeloid leukemia.

In the time leading up to his death, Khanda reportedly faced a sustained harassment campaign, as per accounts from friends and family. Additionally, the Indian press falsely accused him of involvement in a protest at the Indian high commission in London last March.

However, Khanda was neither charged nor convicted of any crimes in relation to the UK protest.

In the months preceding his death, Khanda was frequently contacted by Indian authorities, with incidents of his mother and sister being questioned and detained.

Initially, West Midlands police asserted a thorough investigation had been conducted.

Initially, the West Midlands police maintained that they had thoroughly investigated the matter. However, their stance seemed to shift following inquiries regarding the investigation’s specifics. This included allegations suggesting that the police had not conducted a search of Khanda’s residence or engaged in interviews with his friends and colleagues after his death.

Referring to the recent decision to subject West Midlands police to special measures, which includes accusations of inadequate crime investigations, Khanda’s family has urged the Home Office to designate a different police force to probe his death. They anticipate a response from the Home Office by December 29.

Fresh concerns are emerging regarding the handling of the situation following revelations in Canada and the US regarding the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist, and reports of a purported scheme to murder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Pannun, a New York-based lawyer, is coordinating a symbolic Khalistan referendum scheduled to take place in California next month.

Polak said, “Avtar died within the same period that Mr Nijjar was assassinated by an Indian agent in Canada, and when an attempt was made to kill Mr Pannun in the USA on behalf of the Indian regime.”

He added, “The family’s request for a diligent and objective review by a different police force in this matter is reasonable and one that we hope the home secretary will grant.”

The West Midlands police have opted not to offer further commentary on the issue.

Despite the Biden administration’s emphasis on maintaining a robust alliance with India to counter China, the Department of Justice proceeded to unseal a criminal indictment. This indictment accused an unidentified Indian government official of plotting an attempted murder of US attorney Pannun on American soil.

This development followed statements made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, alleging India’s involvement in the murder of Nijjar outside his place of worship in British Columbia.

In response, the Indian government has declared its intention to investigate these allegations.

The UK government has refrained from making public statements regarding inquiries into Khanda’s death, with Foreign Office ministers indicating that the police had conducted a thorough review of the matter.

Similar to the US, the UK has aimed to bolster India as a counterbalance to China’s geopolitical influence.

Concurrently, London is actively pursuing a multi-billion-pound free trade agreement with New Delhi, striving to finalise negotiations before upcoming elections in both countries.

Downing Street officials recently travelled to the Indian capital, with reports suggesting that discussions are nearing their conclusion.

Jas Singh, an adviser to the Sikh Federation (UK), expressed concern over the UK government’s months-long silence regarding the Indian government’s cross-border repression, describing it as deeply unsettling for British Sikhs.

“The UK government cannot continue to ignore the illegal activities of the Indian government against Sikhs. There are many cases and examples of foreign interference and undue influence on UK policy,” he said.

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