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TRUTH   JUSTICE   FREEDOM

Harassment by the Indian Government escalates and SOPW team members working at ground level are threatened with arrest 

Last week the National Investigations Agency (NIA) team arrived again at one of our senior team member Bhai Parminder Singhs home. They asked that he accompany them and their Panjab police officers to the homes of each of the prisoners supported by SOPW so the families could be ‘questioned’. Parminder Singh flatly refused to travel anywhere with the Government officials and as a result he was threatened with arrest by the NIA officials.

Parminder Singh became a key member of the SOPW India team after he was released from jail in 2010. He had been held on remand accused of arms possession and attempted murder at Nabha Jail 2007. When his case finally reached court he was acquitted of the charge of attempted murder but found guilty of arms possession. He always strenuously denied all the charges registered against him and explained the arms which he was charged with possessing were in fact ‘planted’ at his house by Panjab police officers prior to his arrest.

SOPW supported Parminder Singh while he was in Jail and while his mother was very ill and alone at home. During his time in prison he saw for himself the remarkable seva undertaken by SOPW and the huge difference it made to the lives of the prisoners. It was then that he promised his fellow Sikh political prisoners, some of who were serving lengthy sentences that upon his release he too would join the SOPW team and continue to take the message of the plight of Gursikh prisoners languishing in jails to the rest of the world. Similar to Bhai Balbir Singh Bains who founded SOPW, Parminder Singh was also severely tortured and then thrown into prison without any legal support. When SOPW were made aware of his case we immediately began the process of support and lawyers were instructed to take the case to court.

It has been over three years since Parminder Singh was freed but due to the levels of torture inflicted upon him he has never returned to his former level of fitness. Since his release he has been blighted by periods of ill health and despite our pleas to him that he should take time to rest and seek medical advice for his condition he spends all day fulfilling his panthic duties. If he is not meeting with prisoners or their families he is organising the SOPW teams for forthcoming projects or meeting with lawyers or other Panthic figures. Frequent visits to Prisons far from home means he often returns home late at night and is out to work again at the crack of dawn. Often we find he has spent the night sleeping in local Gurdware or even on bus stand bench’s waiting for the next bus to arrive the next morning on which to travel home. The little time he then has at home is spent caring for his ill mother or writing up reports for us to share with the Sangat. His own health and well being is always bottom of his list of priorities.

Given Parminder Singh’s own experiences of the Indian authorities, the National Investigation Agency’s request that he accompany them to what he believes is a cross examinations of prisoner families, he felt was an insult. He explained that under no circumstances would he ever wish to be seen riding around in police vehicles, sipping cups of tea and appearing to be on friendly terms with them. He went on to say any police force or agency employed by the corrupt Indian Government could never have the best interests of poor or suffering citizens at heart. He believed the officers would happily sink to any moral depths to please their superiors and therefore links with such people he felt amounted to nothing less than treachery. He told the officers that if they felt it was compulsory that he accompanied them then they would need to handcuff and forcibly take him but refused to be seen willingly associating with them.

Enraged at Parminder Singh’s stand, the professional guise that the new NIA department hide behind suddenly fell apart and out came the all too familiar Indian Police behaviour for which they are notoriously known. The officers threatened Parminder Singh with arrest and 10 days remand which we know means ten days torture in an interrogation centre, hidden away from the public and more importantly the media’s attention.

Parminder Singh has become well versed with the antics of the NIA, it was only last year that they thoroughly investigated the work of SOPW and the team fully co-operated, providing all evidence of financial transactions and documents relating to the registry of the charity etc. However months later having left no stone unturned in their investigation the NIA found not a shred of evidence to support the ludicrous accusation’s by the Indian Government that SOPW fund ‘terrorists’ and the investigation was scaled down and the NIA returned to Delhi empty handed. However in recent weeks the NIA appear to have invented new grounds to escalate their investigation again and are back in Panjab sniffing for anything that could lead to the work of SOPW to be halted and the Sikh prisoners and their families to be left destitute.

Time and time again and through various channels we have invited the NIA officials to come forward and facilitate a meeting with senior members and trustees of SOPW so this matter can be resolved once and for all.

SOPW take threats and attempts of intimidation towards any of our team members extremely seriously. This matter has now been passed to our legal team who will investigate this new phase of harassment by the NIA towards our team, our prisoners and the families we support.  

© The Sikh Organisation for Prisoners Welfare 2019