Chandigarh: The Akal Takht, the highest temporal body of the Sikhs, has given a 24-hour ultimatum to the Punjab government to release all those arrested during the police crackdown on absconding Khalistani activist Amritpal Singh.
If its demand isn’t met by the Bhagwant Mann-led government, the Akal Takht will decide its “further course of action”, Harjinder Singh Dhami, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), said in Amritsar Monday, briefing mediapersons about the decision taken by Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh.
The jathedar’s decision came after a three-hour meeting of Sikh bodies called by him in the Golden Temple premises. During the meeting, the heads of various religious bodies, ThePrint has learnt, were of the opinion that the government had acted in an excessive manner during its crackdown on Amritpal, following which hundreds of youth had been picked up from their homes and lodged in various jails.
Dhami said it had been decided that the government be given a 24-hour ultimatum to release every person who had been arrested since 18 March, failing which further course of action would be decided by the Akal Takht.
Giani Harpreet Singh had Sunday advised Amritpal to surrender before the police. “He should face the investigation and answer the questions being posed by the police,” the jathedar had said, further claiming that the police had used the Amritpal issue as an opportunity to pick up innocent boys who had only a meagre role to play.
Punjab DGP Gaurav Yadav had said the same day that no innocent individual would be harrassed by the police, adding that since 18 March, 353 people had been arrested in cases related directly to Amritpal, or detained as a preventive measure to maintain law and order. He added that out of these 353, 197 had been released by the police.
Even though police action against Amritpal and his men has been widely appreciated by the public, leaders of various political parties including the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal have criticised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government for “unleashing a reign of terror on Sikh youth”.
On the last day of the budget session, Congress MLAs, led by Leader of the Opposition Pratap Singh Bajwa, had walked out of the House over the issue.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, while criticising the government for picking up “innocent youth”, has offered a team of advocates to provide free legal aid to the latter’s families.
On Monday, the SGPC also offered legal services to families of those arrested. “In case the families have hired a lawyer on their own, they will be compensated monetarily by the SGPC,” said Dhami.
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Another aide arrested
Meanwhile, continuing with its crackdown on Amritpal, the police Monday arrested Varinder Singh Johal, a close aide and security guard of the radical preacher, from Tarn Taran. Invoking the National Security Act against Johal, the police shifted him to the central jail at Dibrugarh, Assam, where seven other alleged aides of Amritpal including his uncle Harjit Singh and actor Daljeet Kalsi are lodged.
Johal was arrested by the Patti police in January for posting a video of himself firing a weapon in the air on social media. Police sources said he was released on bail. Johal was earlier in the Army, but was allegedly removed seven years ago following which he worked at a bank as a guard. His weapons licence was from Jammu, which the Punjab Police got cancelled last month, after Amritpal and his men (including Johal) stormed into the Ajnala police station to secure an aide’s release.
Amritpal and his close associate Pappalpreet Singh, who is said to be with the Khalistani activist, continued to elude the police for the 10th day Monday. Apart from them, the police are also looking for Sukhdeep Singh alias Satrana Singh Khalsa, Lovepreet Singh Toofan and Bikramjeet Singh, all his alleged aides.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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