Rishi Sunak needs to come clean on the risks to Sikh activists in the UK
We need a judge-led inquiry into the mysterious death of Avtar Singh Khanda on the back of planned and actual assassinations of Sikh activists in Canada and the US
London – 5 December 2023
The Guardian yesterday reported on the sudden and mysterious death of 35-year old Avtar Singh Khanda on 15 June this year in Birmingham, three days before the assassination of Canadian Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil.
It is now clear the West Midlands Police, who are in special measures, did not carry out a proper investigation by looking into death threats Avtar Singh Khanda was receiving from serving Indian police officers and neglected to conduct any interviews or trace his movements leading up to his death.
Avtar Singh Khanda released a video in April, exactly two months before he died giving details of pressure being exerted on him and threats and harassment of his family in India by Indian police over a four day period. He specifically mentioned the direct threats and harassment of numerous members of his family by Rupinder Kaur Bhattti, the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police in Ludhiana who was telephoning him in the UK. GCHQ will have a record of such calls and threats and must have informed British intelligence.
The bungled and incomplete investigation by the West Midlands Police indicates they had no basis to conclude there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Avtar Singh Khanda.
The backtracking by the West Midlands Police and recent revelations from the US and Canada raise serious questions about the senior coroner’s decision not to order an autopsy into the mysterious death of Avtar Singh Khanda. The senior coroner should not simply have relied on the sub-standard West Midlands Police investigation.
The incompetence of West Midlands Police is also highly embarrassing for Home Office and FCDO Ministers. In recent responses to over 100 MPs who have written to raise concerns on behalf of Sikh constituents about the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar and the mysterious death of Avtar Singh Khanda they have categorically stated reliance on the ‘thorough’ investigation by the West Midlands Police.
The situation demands an inquest into Avtar Singh Khanda’s mysterious death that will almost certainly need to become a judge-led inquiry into his death. Only a judge-led inquiry will be able to get to examine the failings of the police, coroner and British intelligence, especially on the back of planned and actual assassinations of Sikh activists in Canada and the US.
A starting point for the judge-led inquiry will be the “dossier” handed by Narendra Modi to David Cameron in November 2015 that was widely reported in the media and named Avtar Singh Khanda. The UK Government has denied existence of the “dossier” but it almost certainly exists and may also provide the first link to the abduction, torture and arbitrary detention of British national, Jagtar Singh Johal in India two years later in November 2017 where many UK politicians and others are perplexed with the actions of the UK Government to date to try and secure his release and return to the UK.
A report published in London for The Print, an Indian online newspaper has disclosed an Indian RAW intelligence officer, understood to be a former Indian police officer was expelled from the UK in the Summer at the request of British intelligence. This came before Justin Trudeau made allegations in the Canadian Parliament on 18 September and expelled the head of RAW in Canada.
What is not clear is what activities was the Indian RAW intelligence officer or ex-police officer carrying out in the UK for which he was expelled in the Summer and why did India not respond in a tit-for tat move as they did with Canada. Was this the penalty the Indian authorities accepted for targeting Avtar Singh Khanda, the illegal activities of the India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the UK and putting out a “hit-list” of 20 Sikh activists living abroad, including up to seven from the UK on Indian television in July.
Following Justin Trudeau’s revelations British intelligence officers no doubt fed by relevant communications gathered by GCHQ started telling journalists and others there was foul play involved in the mysterious death of Avtar Singh Khanda.
However, it appears Rishi Sunak and his Ministers have silenced British intelligence as they have no political appetite for exposing wrongdoing by the Indian authorities against Sikh activists on UK soil. It is clear Rishi Sunak and his Ministers are far more interested in appeasing the Indian government to help with a trade deal by demonising Sikh activists in the UK by calling them extremists, although they have presented no evidence to back this up.
Unlike the US and Canada no Sikh activists have been contacted by the police or intelligence services in the UK to warn them to take precautions, despite the recent expulsion of an Indian RAW intelligence officer based in London. Sikhs under threat have instead had to report concerns themselves to the police or MI5 that they may be targets for Indian sponsored death squads.
There is increasing speculation that the US indictment released last week that refers to the role of CC-1, Nikhil Gupta’s co-accused was taking direct instructions from Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Adviser who reports directly to Narendra Modi. The Five Eyes nations will know the identity of CC-1 and who he reports to. This may explain India’s reluctance to take action despite pressure from the Canadian and US administrations that has led to expulsions of Indian RAW intelligence officers from the US, Canada and the UK in recent months.
Over 350 Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations wrote an open letter to Rishi Sunak on 24 April 2023 raising many concerns about ignoring Sikhs and the demonisation of Sikh activists in the UK to appease India. A follow up letter was sent on 19 June 2023 following the mysterious death of Avtar Singh Khanda and the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Rishi Sunak has yet to respond to the range of issues raised, including why as PM he went out of his way to meet Ajit Doval on 4 February 2023, but has not offered the same courtesy to the National Security Advisers from the US and Canada (close allies of Britain) who might have told him to be careful who he meets and assassination plots involving Ajit Doval.
Rishi Sunak has shown his total incompetence by completely avoiding the issue of the safety and security of Sikh activists in the UK at PMQs last week. He has also tried to delegate responsibility to Tom Tugendhat, the Security Minister for responding to British Sikhs on his behalf.
Tom Tugendhat sent a ridiculous response on 14 July 2023, that is being shared publicly for the first time that completely failed to address many of the specific issues raised in the letters to the PM on 24 April and 19 June. The Sikh Federation (UK) immediately asked him to withdraw the response that was acknowledged by his office on 19 July 2023.
MPs on all sides have all seen the open letters sent by over 350 Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations to Rishi Sunak on 24 April and 19 June and are aware of Sikh activists being targeted in Canada, the US and UK. They are also now aware of Rishi Sunak’s incompetence on such matters and our hope is they will ask serious questions about what the UK Government is doing to address the safety and security of their law-abiding Sikh constituents.
ENDS Jaspal Singh National Press Secretary Sikh Federation (UK)