State Dept calls Khalistani group SFJ’s call to boycott Air India unacceptable

Ritu Jha–

The US Department of State has termed the call by the Khalistani group Sikh for Justice (SFJ) to all Sikhs to boycott Air India as “unacceptable.” On November 5, SFJ founder and its legal counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a designated terrorist in India, asked the global Sikh community to “stop flying Air India” from November 19.

A US State Department spokesperson told indica: “We are aware of the comments in question. Violence, or the threat of violence, is not an acceptable form of activism.”

Pannun had said in a video put out on social media, “We are asking the Sikh people not to fly via Air India on November 19. There will be a global blockade. On November 19, don’t travel by Air India or your life will be in danger.”

November 19 is the birth anniversary of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984 as vengeance for ordering Operation Blue Star, an armed forces operation conducted in June 1984 to evict Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple shrine in Amritsar, Punjab.

Bhindranwale was killed in the operation, but the Sikh community felt that their holiest shrine had been desecrated. The brutality of the operation and high civilian casualties are reasons cited for spawning an insurgency in Punjab, which would be waged by Sikh militants for over a decade.

However, this is not the first time the US State Department has shared its concern regarding pro-Khalistan groups, be it a call for a nationwide protest in March this year or the alleged July 2 arson incident at Consulate building in San Francisco, California.

The spokesperson told indica that they do not have a brief on the July 2 investigation yet. “We are coordinating with our Indian counterparts, as well as the San Francisco Police Department and other local authorities in their investigative efforts,” she told indica. “The United States condemns the reported acts of vandalism and attempted arson against the Indian Consulate in San Francisco. Vandalism or violence against diplomatic facilities or foreign diplomats in the United States is a criminal offense.”

She added, “We reiterate our firm commitment to the security and safety of these diplomatic facilities and of the diplomats who work in them.”

On November 8, India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered the blocking of apps, websites and social media accounts of UK-based Punjab Politics TV having close links with SFJ, a designated Khalistani terror outfit that has been declared unlawful under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Asked whether the Indian government shared its concern with the state department about SFJ, the spokesperson said, “Our relationship with India is an important, strategic, and consequential partnership. We work with them on a range of important issues, but I have no information to share about coordination on this particular topic.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told indica, “This doesn’t seem to be a criminal matter, so the FBI would neither be involved nor would we have an opinion about it.”

Air India did not respond to queries sent by indica. This story will be updated when Air India responds.

India’s Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) ordered extra security checks for Air India flights in Punjab and Delhi airports after the threat. The BCAS in order copy said, “A 100 per cent SLPC (Secondary Ladder Point Check) for all Air India flights at IGI Airport and airports in Punjab, issue of Temporary Airport Entry Pass (TAEP), entry of visitors to the terminal building of the IGI (Indira Gandhi International) airport (in Delhi) and sale of visitors’ entry tickets will be banned.”
The order was issued on Monday and it has been implemented immediately. The security measures will be in place till November 30.

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