LONDON: In a major setback to India, the Interpol (International Police) has rejected Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s request to issue a Red Corner Notice (RCN) on terror charges against the prominent Khalistan campaigner Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
The Interpol has confirmed that it rejected India’s request to issue a Red Corner Notice against Pannun, who is the founder and legal advisor for the secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) which had spearheaded Khalistan Referendum voting across the UK, Europe and now in Canada.
India had requested Interpol to locate and detain Pannun until his extradition and surrender to India or other legal action.
An RCN is an international document issued by Interpol against wanted persons, requesting law enforcement agencies around the world to trace the person and take him into custody.
Papers seen by The News show that the Interpol Commission — made up of four members from the US, UK, Lebanon and Morocco — rejected the Indian request for a Red Notice against Pannun, finding that the Indian allegations were essentially political or religious and lacked evidence of any crime.
This means that India will not be allowed to use the Interpol system to generate Red Notices requesting the arrest and extradition of Pannun for his legitimate human rights and separatist activities including the Khalistan Referendum campaign that he has been running.
The Interpol commission’s decision represents an important recognition of the legality of the Referendum 2020 campaign and supports the freedom of expression for Sikhs to promote an independent Khalistan so long as it continues to be done through peaceful and democratic means.
India has been targeting the separatist for several years. India had argued that Pannun was engaged in a criminal conspiracy to revive terrorism in Punjab, assassinate political leaders, and promote an unlawful secessionist agenda.
In response to India’s requests to Interpol, Pannun had argued that the Indian allegations were rooted in India’s political or religious persecution of Pannun and revenge for his human rights work with “Sikhs for Justice,” including the Referendum 2020 campaign.
He had argued that the criminal charges levelled against him by India were trumped-up, falsified, and aimed at undermining Pannun’s human rights activism. Pannun had told Interpol that Sikh activists have long faced gross, flagrant, and mass human rights violations at the hands of Indian authorities.
The commission found that Pannun’s activities, such as the Khalistan Referendum campaign, had a clear political dimension and that allegations by Indians — such as recruiting young Sikhs in Punjab to put out flags and banners calling for the independence of Khalistan or using social media to promote “Referendum 2020” — fell under the fundamental right to freedom of speech. The commission agreed that these were not crimes.
Regarding the alleged terrorist acts — such as killing prominent Indian leaders, burning down businesses, and procuring weapons — the commission found that India had submitted very limitedly supporting information and no concrete information on the attacks.
Ultimately, the commission found that the Indian Request for a Red Notice against Pannun did not comply with Article 3 of Interpol’s Constitution because it had “a predominant political dimension”.
The commission decided that maintaining the data concerning Pannun would have “significant adverse implications for the neutrality” of Interpol and ordered that all personal data concerning Mr Pannun be deleted from Interpol’s files.
In May this year, India announced that it had asked Interpol to take action against Pannun for the second time after Khalistan flags were found hanging at the gate of the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha.
Pannun, a New York attorney, is on India’s most wanted list. He founded Sikhs For Justice in 2007 in the United States to campaign for an independent “Khalistan” carved out of India. The group has been outlawed in India.
According to the Interpol commission, the Indian National Central Bureau (NCB) provided “insufficient information” to show the “terrorist nature of the crime” and also Pannun’s “possible active and meaningful involvement in terrorist activities”, the newspaper report said.
The Interpol acknowledged that Pannun is a “high-profile Sikh separatist” and that SFJ is a group that calls for an independent Khalistan.
In its decision, Interpol also rejected India’s allegation that Pannun and SFJ are “exploiting the right to free speech available in the western democracies to its citizens”.
Just a few days ago, India’s Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar during his media talk in Australia stated that SFJ and its Khalistan Referendum are “abusing the liberties and free speech of democratic countries” but the Interpol decision clearly distinguishes separatism from terrorism and Interpol commission recognised the legitimacy of SFJ’s call for a referendum on the issue of Khalistan and declared the referendum as important free speech right guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.