Sikh separatist preacher continues to elude India police

March 21, 2023
Punjab police declared Amritpal Singh 'a fugitive' and launched a state-wide search for him
Punjab police declared Amritpal Singh 'a fugitive' and launched a state-wide search for him

NEW DELHI — Internet services remain restricted in parts of India's northern Punjab state for a fourth day as thousands of police continued their search for Sikh separatist leader Amritpal Singh.

More than 100 have been arrested in the manhunt since Saturday.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann promised strict action against those spreading "anti-national sentiments" in Punjab.

A self-styled preacher, Singh says he supports supports Khalistan, or a separate Sikh homeland.

His rapid rise and incendiary views have revived memories of a 1980s insurgency in Punjab in which thousands died.

Singh's whereabouts remained unclear.

On Tuesday, a local court questioned the state government how Singh had managed to escape arrest when thousands of personnel were searching for him.

The government said it had managed to arrest all other accused, except for Singh.

The court was hearing a plea filled by the legal adviser of Singh's organization Waris Punjab De - or the Heirs of Punjab - alleging that Singh had been illegally and forcibly detained by the police, and seeking his release.

"You have 80,000 police personnel. How has he not been arrested? This is an intelligence failure," the court said, as it asked the government to submit a report on the search operation within four days.

Punjab police declared Singh "a fugitive" on Saturday after he escaped in a dramatic car chase which was live-streamed by some of his associates.

Since then authorities have blocked internet services, restricted messages and deployed thousands of paramilitary solders to Punjab as they began a state-wide search.

Six of Singh's associates and an uncle have been arrested and charged under India's stringent National Security Act (NSA) - four of them were sent to a prison in the north-eastern state of Assam on Monday.

On Tuesday, the state government said it had partially lifted the internet ban while retaining it in a few places till March 23.

The preacher claims to draw inspiration from Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a preacher accused by the Indian government of leading an armed insurgency for Khalistan. Bhindranwale was killed in the Indian army's storming of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, in 1984.

The crackdown against Mr Singh comes weeks after his supporters stormed a police station, demanding the release of an aide who had been arrested.

On Monday, pro-Khalistan supporters vandalized the Indian consulate in San Francisco, calling for Mr Singh to be freed.

A similar protest took place at the Indian High Commission in London on Sunday where a man detached the Indian flag from the first-floor balcony of the building.

Meanwhile, Punjab's chief minister Mann said that all those who have been making "hateful speeches" in the state for the past few months "have been caught". He, however, did not specify who and how many people had been detained or arrested. — BBC

March 21, 2023
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