Centre bans pro-Khalistan SFJ under anti-terror law

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Centre bans pro-Khalistan SFJ under anti-terror lawNEW DELHI: Moving to crush the potential of ‘fringe’ radical outfit, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), to whip up pro-Khalistan sentiments with its ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign, the Centre on Wednesday declared the group an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

A senior home ministry official said all the major Sikh bodies consulted ahead of the five-year ban had supported the action and that the Centre had largely relied on the “material” sent by Punjab government to impose the ban.

The US-based secessionist outfit with the primary objective of establishing an independent and sovereign country has its top leadership based in US, UK and Canada, with just 8-10 active members and negligible support base in India. It has been aiding and funding small groups of radicalised Sikhs to revive militancy in Punjab, as evident from investigations by NIA and Punjab police in 11 related cases. Home ministry sources said SFJ has active links with Pak-based terrorist outfits and had supported the Pulwama terror attack.

In the notification banning SFJ, the Centre said it was involved in anti-national and subversive activities in Punjab ; was in close touch with militant outfits and activists supporting violent form of extremism in Punjab and elsewhere to carve out a sovereign Khalistan; was encouraging and aiding the activities for secession; and supporting separatist groups in India and elsewhere.

An officer said the central government had sent a strong warning to fringe groups operating from foreign soil that it will not tolerate secessionist activities, whether carried out in India or abroad.

SFJ enjoys strong online presence through social media accounts run in its own name or by its leaders — main promoter Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a New York-based attorney, apart from Hardip Singh Nijjer and Paramjit Singh Pamma who are principal proponents of Referendum 2020 in Canada and UK respectively.

Interestingly, SFJ had in 2015 approached a federal court in the US seeking ban on RSS as a foreign terrorist outfit. The US State department had sought dismissal of the lawsuit.

With around 2 lakh followers on Twitter, Facebook and various websites, SFJ is known to be radicalising Sikh youths by distorting reality, fanning communal hatred and promoting secessionism in the garb of an unofficial referendum for self-determination of Sikhs. SFJ plans to hold the referendum in November 2020 across India and other countries with a notable Sikh diaspora.

Home ministry sources said the ban on SFJ will strengthen India’s case for cooperation from US, UK etc in cracking down on its activities abroad.

Ahead of Republic Day this year, SFJ gave calls to Sikhs in the US and Canada to “burn the tricolour”. It also offered to issue sponsorship letters to Sikh soldiers and Punjab police personnel for getting a US visa to attend the ‘Khalistan Referendum 2020 rally” there in June 2019.

In December 2018, Paramjit Pamma, in a Facebook post, sought the support of Pakistan prime minister for its referendum campaign to “liberate Punjab from the Indian occupation”. SFJ plans to hold “Kartarpur Sahib convention 2019” in Pakistan coinciding with 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.