LONDON, UK—Nearly 15 years ago on the evening of March 27, 2001, following a debate in the House of Lords, the leadership of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) through it lawyers issued a written statement that was faxed to the Home Secretary.
The statement said the ISYF “as an organisation was being suspended with immediate effect and that this decision was consistent with the organisation’s long standing commitment to lawful behaviour, and to protect its supporters in the UK.” The statement continued that “it would remain suspended until de-proscribed but would pursue lawful challenge.”
The January 2014 revelations in the ‘Amritsar papers’ provided the impetus for the leadership of the Sikh Federation (UK) to apply in February 2015 for the ISYF to be de-proscribed. It had not existed in the UK since March 2001 and was not concerned in terrorism. That application should have been dealt with by the Home Secretary under the law within 90 days and just before the General Election. In fact the response was eventually received on July 31, 2015, almost twice the statutory limit.
The response asserted that the Home Secretary maintained a “reasonable belief” that the ISYF is concerned in terrorism and (in further correspondence) that the process in reaching this decision was “careful and meticulous” and that there had been “extensive consideration” and “full assessment of available information”. No reasons at all were given for this basis for belief or for the continued proscription, nor any indication of any evidence supporting it.
In August 2015, an FOI request was made regarding the Community Impact Assessment that was completed to consider the implications if the ban was lifted. Several Sikh organisations in the UK are believed to have been asked about their opinions on the lifting of the ban on the ISYF. In October the Home Office said it was considering the request and ‘qualified exemptions’ of national security, international relations and information provided in confidence. Four months after the deadline set by the Home Office itself there has been no response. With the lifting of the ban the information is likely to emerge and could send shockwaves across the community.
An appeal was filled with the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission (POAC) on 11 September 2015. The grounds of appeal were the (i) the failure to give any reasons for the refusal to de-proscribe is contrary to the rule of law enshrined in the UK, the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights; and (ii) the ISYF is not “concerned in terrorism”.
The Commission directed the Home Secretary to provide reasons and a summary of evidence supporting her position. On the day those reasons and evidence were due, 14 December 2015, the Home Secretary informed POAC that she would not defend the proceedings and would lay an Order to deproscribe the ISYF as there is “insufficient information to conclude that the group remains concerned in terrorism”, i.e. the statutory test for proscription is not satisfied.
On February 22, 2016 a draft Order was laid by the Home Secretary before both Houses of Parliament indicating her desire to lift the ban on the ISYF. The affirmative procedure requires the formal approval of both Houses of Parliament before it becomes law. On Tuesday this week MPs in the House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of lifting the ban on the ISYF. Yesterday Peers in the House of Lords did the same and the Home Secretary will today be signing the order so it becomes law.
Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) following the vote in the Lords yesterday said:
“The Sikh Federation (UK) and the Sikh community has always maintained for the last 15 years that the ISYF as an organisation has never been involved with terrorism. The ban on the ISYF in the UK alone in 2001 was politically motivated and was to do with appeasing the Indian authorities. This is what many UK politicians on all sides have told us over the years, including past and present Ministers. We feel we have been vindicated, there is absolutely nothing wrong with peacefully campaigning for an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan.”
“The Indian authorities claimed to have ended the armed struggle in Punjab some 10 years earlier in the early 1990s so the ban made no sense in 2001. We have it in writing that Special Branch and MI5 did not advocate the banning of the ISYF in 2001, but officials from the Foreign Office suggested to the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, that a ban on the ISYF in the UK would be beneficial to relations with India.”
“The Indian authorities wanted to use proscription to silence Sikh activists in this country who were highlighting continued human rights violations and discrimination against minorities in India. We legally and politically challenged the ban and formed the Sikh Federation (UK) in September 2003. India has on several occasions called for strong action against the Sikh Federation (UK), but this has been flatly rejected – first by a Labour Government, then the Coalition Government and now the Conservative Government. Successive British governments have maintained the organisation has every right to campaign and lobby for an independent Sikh homeland as long as it does it democratically and peacefully.”
“The political lobbying the Sikh Federation (UK) has developed over the years as demonstrated most recently in stopping the extradition of Paramjeet Singh Pamma and during the debates in Parliament this week is second to none. The reputation of the organisation continues to be enhanced for its vociferous opposition to historic injustices and what is still happening to Sikhs and other minorities in India today. Many senior politicians have commented the organisation continues to win their respect due to its dedication, professionalism and principled stand to campaign for the rights of Sikhs, including the right to self determination and the call for an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan. In the debate in the House of Lords yesterday the UK Government committed to a ‘positive relationship’ with the Sikh Federation (UK) and to clear up any past misunderstandings that may have occurred.”
“Our campaign for a Sikh homeland has received another massive boost this week with the lifting of the ban on the ISYF that we have battled for during the last 15 years. For those in any doubt the Sikh Federation (UK) that is in its thirteenth year of existence will continue to be the lead political organisation. However, now that the ban on the ISYF has been lifted this will become an organisation linked to the Sikh Federation (UK), with its leadership drawn from those youngsters that have an interest in Panthik issues and will focus on youth engagement and development.”
To mark the lifting of the ban on the ISYF the Sikh Federation (UK) has arranged an Akhand Paath Sahib (continuous reading of the Sikh Holy scriptures for 48 hours) that will take place at Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Smethwick commencing on Friday 25 March, with the Bhog on Sunday 27 March at 10am. This will be followed by a Panthik conference between 11am-2pm.