Chandigarh: Days before Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ rally at Houston in the US, a city court has issued summons to the prime minister on a petition alleging “unilateral annexation” of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August leading to a “military exercise” that involved human rights violation in the Valley.
According to the Houston Chronicle, a local daily, the summons were issued Thursday on a civil complaint filed by two unnamed Kashmiris settled in the US through an organisation called the ‘Kashmir Khalistan Referendum Front’.
The reports states that the 73-page lawsuit accuses Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Lt. General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, commander of the Chinar Corps, responsible for counterinsurgency operations in the Valley, of having “carried out extrajudicial killings, committed wrongful death, battery, emotional distress, crimes against humanity and inflicted cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment” upon Kashmiris since the crackdown.
“The civil complaint accuses the Indian head of state of human rights violations under The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, a federal statute that allows civil suits on U.S. soil against foreign officials suspected of committing torture or extrajudicial killing,” the report said.
The US state department will now have to seek immunity for Modi from US civil lawsuits failing which, the summons, if served to him, will lead to the beginning of the lawsuit against the prime minister in the US.
SFJ behind complaint
Intelligence agencies, however, believe that Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the legal advisor for the banned Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is behind the complaint.
“Pannun has lost all traction among Sikhs,” an intelligence officer said. “Now he is trying to become relevant through the Kashmir cause and is advocating that Kashmir and Khalistan are one. The aim is to get Sikhs separatists to support Kashmir separatists and vice versa.”
The SFJ was banned in India in July as a “secessionist organisation”. It is an US-based advocacy group that is spearheading the “Referendum 2020” campaign for the creation of a separate Sikh state of Khalistan.
The belief that the SFJ could be behind the complaint has been strengthened by the fact that Pannun addressed the press outside the Houston court following the summons. His name also appears on the civil complaint, though it is unclear in what capacity.
In a video of the address, Pannun is heard saying that everyone in India “violating human rights even if it was the PM himself” would be held accountable.
This is not the first time that the SFJ has tried to create legal trouble for Indian leaders visiting the US. The SFJ had approached Canada’s attorney general in 2015 seeking criminal proceedings against Modi over the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. The PM was then due to visit Canada.
In the same year, the banned outfit had managed to get a US court to issue summons to actor Amitabh Bachchan over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
In March 2013, the group had secured summons from a Washington court against then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh ahead of his four-day visit to the country.
The SFJ alleged that Singh was a party to alleged human rights violations by the state machinery during days of militancy in Punjab. Months later, the same group got summons issued against Congress president Sonia Gandhi for allegedly protecting Congress leaders involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
‘Amarinder under the scanner’
In 2016, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh (who was then the state Congress chief) had to cancel his political rallies in Canada after the SFJ lodged a complaint with the Canadian government that Amarinder’s visit was a “potential violation” of the “Global Affairs Canada” (GAC) policy. SFJ had also moved a local court in Ontario alleging torture charges against Amarinder.
The SFJ had filed a defamation suit against Amarinder in Canada over his statements that the SFJ was “playing into the hands of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)”. In 2017, the group announced a reward of $10,000 to anyone who served the Canadian court summons to Amarinder.
Last year, when the chief minister was on a personal visit to Turnkey, SFJ filed a complaint against him in a local court alleging “torture” of ‘Referendum 2020’ activists in Punjab. Amarinder had welcomed the ban on SFJ and demanded that it be declared a “terrorist organisation”.
In 2012, during a visit of then Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to the US, the SFJ claimed to have served summons to him secured from a local court in a human rights violation case. Though the chief minister managed to come back to India, the Punjab government fought the case in the US for over a year. The court had dismissed the SFJ lawsuit on the grounds that a Chicago-based Sikh Surinder Pal Singh Kalra was served with the summons instead of Badal.
“Getting summons issued against Indian politicians is a routine public relation exercise by SFJ,” said Punjab legislator and senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia. “They just want to look important and make their nuisance value felt. It is clear they make money in the process from gullible Indians who are working hard to make a living in foreign countries.”
What is the SFJ?
The SFJ was formed in 2007. Pannun, a law graduate from Panjab University in Chandigarh, is seen as the man behind it. He is an attorney at law in the US and SFJ’s legal advisor. Pannun faces a dozen criminal cases in India, including three of sedition for running the secessionist ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign that seeks to “liberate Punjab from Indian occupation”.
Pannun, however, claims that ‘Referendum 2020’ is “a peaceful and democratic movement”.
According to Punjab Police officials, Pannun began backing Kashmiri militants following the Pulwama attack on 14 February.
“Pannun is giving legal aid to Sikh militants living abroad and wanted in India. He has appealed to Punjab gangsters to join the Sikh separatists’ movement,” said a senior Punjab police officer.
“SFJ is misleading Sikhs living in USA and Canada. Pannun uses religion to gather money and further the interests of Pakistan,” said Vineet Joshi, a senior BJP leader from Punjab on whose complaint the first case was registered against Pannun two years ago. “The aim of such summons is only to gather publicity and funding. Such summons don’t lead to anything. His organisation has failed every time and his supporters are now beginning to see this truth.”
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