A bipartisan group of influential American Senators has criticised India after US prosecutors linked an Indian official to a man charged with conspiring to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York.
The Senators were speaking at a Congressional hearing ‘Transnational Repression: A Global Threat to Rights and Security’ organised on Wednesday by the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Committee, said: “We’ve seen disturbing allegations against an Indian government official for involvement in planning to assassinate a US citizen in New York, who was critical of the Indian government. This follows allegations of India’s involvement in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader. Earlier this year, the Modi government had labelled both critics as terrorists.”
The hearing was organised with China in the focus, but India popped up several times, mainly because of the allegations from Canada and the US regarding the theme.
US federal prosecutors on November 29 charged Indian national Nikhil Gupta with working with an Indian government employee in the foiled plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh extremist, who is an American and Canadian citizen.
Describing it as a “matter of concern,” India has announced a high-level investigation and asserted that follow-up action will be taken based on the findings of the investigation panel.
Earlier, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on September 18 made an explosive allegation of the “potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil on June 18. India has strongly rejected Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd” and “motivated.”
“We often say we’re the oldest democracy in the world and India is the largest democracy in the world. This is not the behaviour of a respectable democracy,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said during the hearing.
Ranking Member Senator James Risch, who is a Republican, also raised the issue. “Governments who have gotten away with silencing dissidents inside their own country are now trying to stifle free speech around the world, including the United States. Just last week, the Department of Justice âæ.unsealed an indictment alleging an Indian government official engaged in a plot to assassinate a US citizen in New York City,” he said.
“It should surprise no one that China is leading the world and using transnational repression to quash any sign of dissent,” he noted at the same time.
Testifying before the committee, Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, an advocacy group that raises awareness about the fascist threat to American security and values, said the Canadian Prime Minister has implicated the government of India in the June murder of a Sikh activist and a Canadian citizen in Canada.
And just last week, the Department of Justice alleged in an indictment that an Indian national in India was hired by an Indian government official to orchestrate the assassination of a US citizen who is a Sikh activist, he said.
“Congress should urge the executive branch to continue to raise transnational repression as a priority issue with our partners and allies. The United States must not hesitate to raise this issue directly at the highest levels with those countries perpetrating, transnational repression, even when those perpetrators are close partners such as Saudi Arabia and India,” Abramowitz said.
Abramowitz said that this should be a matter that is in the bilateral relationship. “If it is being swept under the rug, then I think other governments will not take it as seriously,” he said.
Senator Kaine said that it’s interesting to note that the Indian government’s reaction to the prosecution in the United States has been somewhat different than to the claim that their intelligence officials, at least one official, were implicated in the murder in Canada.
“When the Canadian government Prime Minister Trudeau raised the issue and laid out the evidentiary case, the Indian government responded in a very negative way and asked Ottawa to recall about 40 Canadian diplomats that were in India. When the news of this prosecution in the United States came out, the Indian government at least suggested they were somewhat concerned and potentially chastened by this story and their comments have been a little bit more reasonable,” Kaine said.
On Monday, the US State Department welcomed India’s decision by the Indian to set up a high-level committee to investigate the allegations of an assassination attempt by a junior Indian official on Pannun.
“With respect to this specific case, there is an ongoing law enforcement matter at issue here, and we don’t talk about those from this podium. I would defer to the Department of Justice to do that,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in response to a question.
“When this alleged incident was brought to our attention, we made it very clear at the most senior levels of our government to the most senior levels of the Indian government how seriously we would treat something like this. They have opened an investigation into the matter and we look forward to seeing the results of that investigation,” he told reporters at his daily news conference.