Brisbane Khalistan Referendum voting hit by cyber-attack

Cyber-attack part of Indian government's campaign to halt Khalistan Referendum voting in western countries

Our Correspondent
People queue up ahead of voting at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in Brisbane, Australia, on March 18, 2023. — Twitter/@JagdeepSingh_NY
People queue up ahead of voting at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in Brisbane, Australia, on March 18, 2023. — Twitter/@JagdeepSingh_NY

BRISBANE: The Khalistan Referendum voting was hit by a massive cyber security attack within 30 minutes after it began.

The voting started at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre with the Sikh holy prayers at 9am sharp. It continued smoothly for the first 30 minutes, but then the whole electronic voting system crashed as a cyber-attack was launched.

The pro-Khalistan secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), who are the organisers of the voting, said the attack was well planned and well -coordinated. They added that the Indian government agencies were behind the cyber-attack.

They said that this was not the first time that the Khalistan Referendum voting was attacked. One of the organisers said that attempts were made previously as well but the IT team and security experts of the SFJ were able to restore the system.

On Sunday, as the system was disrupted, thousands of people waited in queues outside for the system to start operating again. The online portal especially built for safe voting on the question of “Secession of India from Punjab” went down and a message read on the system: “Your connection is not private. Attackers might be trying to steal your information from the website (for example passwords, messages or cards).”

Inside the vast hall, dozens of policemen stood in line to provide security to the voters. Outside the hall, over 50 police personnel patrolled the streets following fears of disruptions from the local Hindutva groups who had announced a demonstration outside the centre.

The cyber-attack is part of the sustained campaign by the Indian government to halt the Khalistan Referendum voting in the western countries which have seen thousands of Sikhs coming out to show their support for the creation of Khalistan.

Qihoo360 Technology, a Beijing based major software company released a cyber-security report asserting that in India Sikhs with the religious and political inclination, Khalistan Referendum 2020 websites and mobile apps are under attack from Indian cyber mercenary group known as “APT C-35”.

APT C-35 Indian mercenaries have launched several phishing websites and mobile apps relating to Referendum 2020 as bait to target pro Khalistan Sikhs in India. According to the report from the Qihoo 360 Core Security team, “there’s an ongoing phishing and spyware distribution campaign targeting Sikhs in India. There are approximately 30 million Sikhs, followers of a 15th-century monotheistic religion, and most of them (83%) live in Punjab, India”.

"After Canadian Blackberry’s report, Chinese security firm has also confirmed that every Sikh with a religious or political inclination is a target of cyberterrorism in Modi’s India," stated Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, General Counsel to SFJ who had sent a communique to Chinese authorities seeking support for the Khalistan Referendum.

Tensions have risen here ahead of the referendum's voting on March 19, as dozens of pro-Khalistan Sikhs rounded up and forced closure of India’s honorary consulate in Brisbane and the Australian government issued an updated travel advisory advising its citizens against travelling to India due to a “high risk of violence” in certain states, including Punjab.

Few days before the March 19 voting organised by pro-Khalistan secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised with his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese the recent alleged incidents of attacks on temples in Australia as well as pro-Khalistani activities in that country.

It’s understood that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue with the Australian government after over 50,000 Sikhs turned up to vote for the Khalistan Referendum in Melbourne for its first phase held end of January this year. Clashes broke out on streets between Sikhs and Hindu groups outside the voting centre and several arrests were made.

SFJ has said that the community have been attacked by hardline Hindutva supporters in Australia and were captured on videos defacing Khalistan banners hanged at Sikh temples.

On March 15, the Consulate of India — located on Swann Road in Brisbane — was forced to close down after pro-Khalistan supporters blocked its entry point, raising slogans for justice. Queensland Police said the pro-Khalistan and anti-India protest was lawful and peaceful.

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi in his media talk confirmed that a group of Sikhs protestors had entered the consulate and work was halted. He added that India has taken up the issue with the Australian authorities.