Wednesday, November 29, 2023

TIME magazine reporter attacked for interviewing Khalistan Referendum leader Pannun

Ashta Rajvanshi comes under attack including a threat from an Indian government-linked defence analyst

Time Magazines journalist Ashta Rajvanshi (left) and Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. — Provided by the reporter
Time Magazine's journalist Ashta Rajvanshi (left) and Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. — Provided by the reporter 

  • BJP-linked extremist tells journalist she would face death sentence. 
  • Several BJP online trolls threatened journalist’s life and honour.
  • Journalist's X account no longer available after threats. 

LONDON: A TIME magazine female staff writer has taken her X, formerly Twitter, account off after coming under attack from the Indian government assets online for interviewing Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun for the publication on the failed Indian attempt to assassinate him on the American soil.

Rajvanshi, who is TIME’s London staff writer, did a lengthy question-and-answer article with the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) leader and Khalistan Referendum’s spokesman on the Financial Times investigation that the US government had recently thwarted an attempt by the Indian government to kill Pannun in New York, where he mostly lives, for his Khalistan campaign.

As soon as the article was published, Rajvanshi came under attack including a threat from an Indian government-linked defence analyst that she would face charges of death sentence and life imprisonment under Indian laws.

Extremist BJP-linked Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who describes himself as a Senior Research Fellow, Nuclear Security Programme (NSP), said the journalist will be charged. 

“CONFIRMED: @astharajvanshi has violated section 39 of UAPA & will face enhanced interrogation if she returns to India. An Australian citizen with 1 years experience of india, she’s been flogging her brown skin to gain cred as an 'india expert'. Her mother Rekha Rajvanshi," he wrote on X. 

He also wrote: “Looks like Time has joined the regime change agenda. They carry an interview with third rater Gurpatwant Pannu - a man who threatened to blow up Indian aircraft. The interviewer? Check who follows her & who she follows… terrorists of a feather flock together.”

Several BJP online trolls joined the attack with threats to the journalist’s life and honour. The attacks were so ghastly that she went offline and her X account is no longer available. 

A source in Time magazine said the journalist, who is a recipient of the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award and has done a fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs, had gone offline after serious threats emanating online from India, directly linked with the extremist BJP party.

The Financial Times said last week that US authorities had thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen, and issued a warning to India’s government over concerns it was involved in the plot. The matter was also raised with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi by US President Joe Biden during September’s G20 summit in Delhi, said the FT

In a statement, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said US authorities are “treating this issue with utmost seriousness” after raising it with the Indian government, including “at the senior-most levels.”

Pannun, who was born in Amritsar and became a campaigner after the mass killings of Sikhs in Operation Blue Star, told Time that his work is motivated by one goal: “I wanted to pursue the right of the Sikh community to self-determination.”

In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of involvement in the murder of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar — a Sikh separatist who was gunned down in Surrey — British Columbia, in June and who was a close aide of Pannun.

Pannun told TIME: “The Indian government and the Modi regime want to kill me. They want to eliminate me for running the global Khalistan referendum voting campaign. The attempted assassination plot that has been uncovered by the FT, and to which the Biden administration has given its statement, is not about me anymore. It is a challenge to American sovereignty. It is a threat to freedom of speech and democracy in America itself. But I’ll let US authorities speak more on this.”

Pannun told the publication the news of the plot on his life didn’t shock him. 

"Let me tell you something. For the last three years the whole Indian narrative, backed by the Modi government, has been built on who they declared in 2019 as a terrorist. What would you consider terrorism? An act of terrorism is when you're bombing or killing innocents, or even when you're killing for a political goal. A political assassination is also an act of violence. I am the most wanted terrorist in India out of the 140 list. How is that possible? That should give you an answer. I’m aware of the threats to my life, which I really do not care about. But I will not respond back with violence. I will not use a bullet. I will never incite the people of Punjab who are working with me to go and take violence as the path. Because that is exactly what I'm fighting. We are fighting India’s violence with votes," he said. 

Pannun ranks 11th on India’s terrorism list under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Interpol has rejected the terrorism charges levelled against Pannun by the Indian government but he said he never had the chance to fight his case because India doesn’t believe in giving rights to Sikhs. 

“We have never been given an opportunity to present our case just because India has labelled us as terrorists. They were able to successfully kill hundreds of thousands of Sikhs in Punjab in the name of counter-insurgency. There are reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the US Department of State in 1994, and other agencies about what transpired between 1984 to 1995. So they cannot afford for me to be alive as I have achieved a narrative. I'm able to educate, and peacefully and democratically challenge India's narrative of terror and terrorism. The people of Punjab have a right to self-determination. They have the right to their economic resources which are being plundered by India. And nobody has done it in the past," he said. 

Pannun said India had become very concerned in recent times about Sikhs on foreign soil advocating for Sikh issues in India, especially Khalistan because hundreds of thousands of Sikhs want the creation of Khalistan and exposing India.

Asked what the Western countries should do about the threat to his life plot revelation, Pannun said: “I would like to see foreign governments, whether it’s the US, Canada, European Union, or the UK, put their foot down and hold India accountable instead of trying to have trade talks with India. India is using trade as a tool to suppress freedom of speech and expression and to label somebody like me as a terrorist. There should be action against anyone who is involved, whether it’s a diplomat or an employee.

“I am an American, and if somebody is trying to assassinate me, I think it is the responsibility of the Biden administration and US authorities to do something. We will be watching how [the Biden administration] will react. Do they value business, or do they value democracy? Do they value human rights, or a rogue state like India, which has already proved that it will use terror and violence and that it is not a trusted partner?”

Pannun said that India has no legitimate case in clamping down on Sikh militancy in Canada and the US to protect its so-called “national interests”. 

"I don’t know where it was written that India has pious territorial integrity. Was it written in the Bible that nobody can challenge India's territorial integrity? And if somebody challenges India's territorial integrity, the world should stand up on its feet and extradite people who are challenging it? The label that this is a threat to India’s national interest —are we bombing a parliament? Are we inciting violence? No. What exactly is the issue? The issue is simple. Give the Sikh people a right to vote on a basic and fundamental question. They are forcing us to a place where one day again there will be an issue that India will not be able to handle." he added. 

Asked by TIME if he was scared for his life, the New York lawyer said: “No. I will still go ahead with the Khalistan referendum campaign, even if somebody tells me there’s going to be an Indian tank coming to crush me if I do."