UK govt distances itself from pro-Khalistan rally, says ‘people are free to demonstrate’

Activists of All India Anti Terrorist Front hold placards as they shout slogans during a protest demonstration against the proposed move by a Sikh organization to hold a referendum in London of Sikhs living outside India on August 12 demanding independence from India of the Sikh-majority Punjab state, near the British High Commission in New Delhi, India, Friday, August 10, 2018. (AP Photo)

The UK government has distanced itself from the issues raised by the pro-Khalistan rally, ‘London Declaration on Referendum 2020’ organised by Sikhs for Justice at London’s Trafalgar Square on August 12 after it triggered a diplomatic row with India.

India warned the UK to take bilateral ties into consideration before allowing groups that “propagate violence, secessionism and hatred” to demonstrate. “Although we allowed the protest to take place, this should not be taken as expressing a view either in support or against. We are clear that this is a question for the people and government of India,” a UK government source said.

The comment came after reports of letters exchanged between Sikhs for Justice and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on the “campaign for Sikh self-determination” were carried. The office turned down the prospect of a short meeting with the separatist group and said that it “encouraged all involved parties to resolve any differences through dialogue”.

In the letter dated August 17 from the ‘Desk Officer of India’ at the FCO said, “The UK is rightly proud of the long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and demonstrate their views.”

“The British government acknowledges the strength of feeling in the Sikh community regarding the events of 1984, including events at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. We encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws meet international human rights standards,” it states.

The separatist group, SfJ hailed the announcement of a global non-binding referendum on “Punjab Independence” in November 2020 at the rally, described the FCO response as “very encouraging”.

“The response of the UK’s Foreign Office on pro-Khalistan rally is very encouraging and we will continue to engage foreign governments on the issue of Sikhs right of self-determination and demand to hold referendum to determine the status of Punjab,” said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal adviser to the group.

Earlier, SfJ held a declaration event in London on Sunday to announce the resolutions for the establishment of the state of Khalistan, despite India’s objections in the matter. The event was addressed by lord Nazir Ahmed who extended his support for the state.

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