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Pannun case: US senators demand strong diplomatic response over alleged assassination plot

In a letter to Antony Blinken, the Democrats have also requested a briefing on the status of the US administration’s engagement with the Indian government on the matter.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. / File Photo

Democratic senators in the US on June.17 wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, expressing their concerns regarding allegations of the Indian government's involvement in a thwarted plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on US soil. The letter was signed by senators Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders, and Chris Van Hollen.

In the letter, the senators raised concerns about the alleged harassment and threats against Sikh Americans.

"We urge a strong diplomatic response to ensure that all of those who were involved are held accountable, and request a briefing on the status of the administration's engagement with the Indian government on this matter,” the senators wrote.

The letter comes as Nikhil Gupta, an Indian man accused of plotting to kill American Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, pleaded not guilty on June.17 in a federal court in Manhattan.

In November, the US authorities alleged that an Indian government official had directed the plot in the attempted murder of Pannun, who is a US and Canadian citizen. Gupta is accused of being involved in that plot.

Last June, Gupta traveled to Prague from India and was arrested by Czech authorities. A Czech court last month rejected his petition to avoid being sent to the US. He was finally extradited to the US on June.14 for court proceedings.

In the letter, the Democratic senators emphasized that the United States and India share a crucial relationship across various domains, including security cooperation, trade and investment, and strong cultural and people-to-people ties.

“As the two largest democracies in the world, this partnership must not only be based on mutual strategic interests, but also grounded in shared commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law, including respect for sovereignty and the individual rights and freedoms that are fundamental to any democracy,” it said.

On Nov. 29 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed an unsealed indictment against Gupta in the case. The senators said they “fully support” the DOJ’s efforts to bring Gupta to justice. However, the administration “must match words with actions to hold Indian officials involved in the plot accountable”, they added.

“It is imperative that we take an unequivocal stand against such a threat to the rights of a US citizen and violation of US sovereignty, which are examples of India’s increasingly irresponsible efforts to silence critics of its government among its diaspora around the world,” they said in the letter. 

The senators requested that the briefing include a discussion on the Department of State's plans for follow-up actions. They want to know how the department intends to press the Indian government to hold those involved in the plot criminally accountable and to ensure that such acts of transnational repression are not repeated. They emphasized the importance of India maintaining its commitment to respecting human rights both domestically and internationally as it aims for global leadership. 

With India's 2024 general election concluded and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Modi back in power, the senators see this as an opportunity for the United States to prioritize this issue in its agenda with the Indian government, the letter concluded.

The letter penned by the Senators. /

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