Geo, The News London reporter on Indian RAW's hit list: report

Sikh Federation UK leader says Met police aware of threats to Murtaza Ali Shah’s life from Indian state

Ansar Abbasi
A screengrab of Geo and The News London reporter Murtaza Ali Shah. — Screengrab/Geo News
A screengrab of Geo and The News London reporter Murtaza Ali Shah. — Screengrab/Geo News

ISLAMABAD: A leading pro-Khalistan British Sikh organisation’s leader has revealed that prominent Geo and The News London reporter Murtaza Ali Shah faces life threats from the Indian state over his coverage of Khalistan issues and the Sikh activists in the United Kingdom and other western countries.

In an interview on the Sikh Channel Akaal TV, Sikh Federation UK’s leader Dabinderjit Singh revealed that the metropolitan police are aware of the threats to Shah’s life from the Indian state. The Sikh Federation revealed this in a tweet and a video interview as well.

Dabinderjit Singh, who is a retired civil servant and founded the Sikh federation 10 years ago, revealed that the journalist is on the Indian hit list due to his coverage of Sikh issues and particularly his coverage of the Khalistan Referendum and Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), a group banned in India.

“Murtaza Ali Shah covers Sikh issues for Geo TV but is not a Sikh. In particular, Murtaza Shah has been covering the Khalistan Referendum organised by Sikhs For Justice in the UK, Canada, Switzerland, and Italy. He has been reaching to these places from London for coverage,” he said, linking his journalistic work to the threat.

India is known for targeting those who report on Kashmir and Khalistan issues. Last year, India banned Murtaza Ali Shah’s social media accounts in India along with other prominent journalists, including Rana Ayyub and C J Werleman.

The revelation by the Sikh leader has gained credence as an investigation by the British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed this week that the Indian government assassinated around 20 individuals in Pakistan as part of a wider strategy to eliminate those living on foreign soil but speaking against India. 

The Guardian revealed how India’s intelligence agency — Research & Analysis Wing (Raw) — began to carry out assassinations abroad as part of an emboldened approach to national security after 2019. The agency is directly controlled by the office of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is running for a third term in office in elections later this month. 

It is believed that Modi directly ordered the botched assassination bid of Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) founder and leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and SFJ’s Canada leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder last year. Both Nijjar and Pannun were well-known to the Geo reporter who had interviewed them during the Khalistan Referendum in Europe and Canada over the last two years — attended by tens of thousands of charged Sikhs.

Dabinderjit Singh said that the UK’s intelligence centre “GCHQ monitors everything, and it must be in their knowledge what threats exist” for activists. It must be in their knowledge what threats existed for Khanda, the Sikh activist who died suddenly in Birmingham last year a few days after Indian media reported he was on India’s hit list.

Singh said GCHQ “must have monitored the hit list India has issued. They must have also received intelligence from Canada and their allies regarding what India is up to. Sikhs in the UK are the number one target of all the countries where Sikhs live, and this has been the case for nearly 40 years.

In 1984, even India was in touch with then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, asking her to arrest Sikhs involved in protests. The UK intelligence has 40 years of experience. In the last few months, Canadian and Pakistani intelligence have released papers showing that India is involved in terrorism abroad, including murders inside Pakistan, such as the killing of Paramjit Singh Panjwar.”

Paramjit Singh Panjwar, one of India’s most wanted men, was killed in Lahore on May 6 last year. 

In a high-profile press conference on January 25 of this year, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Syrus Qazi said Pakistan has “credible evidence” that links Indian agents to the killings of two Pakistani citizens on Pakistani soil.

“These are killings-for-hire cases involving a sophisticated international set-up spread over multiple jurisdictions,” he said about the killings of Shahid Latif in Azad Kashmir during morning prayers and Muhammad Riaz, who was killed outside a mosque in the city of Sialkot in Punjab. 

Qazi said the method of the killings was similar to cases in Canada and the United States. The Pakistani official produced evidence showing that Indian agents Ashok Kumar Anand and Yogesh Kumar had recruited the killer, Muhammad Abdullah Ali, using the social media platform Telegram.

Intelligence agencies of Canada, the UK, America and Pakistan have issued warnings to pro-Khalistan activists in the last few months that they face threats to their lives from the Indian state agents.

The Canadian govt last year openly accused the Indian government of killing Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was the local leader of the Khalistan Referendum and SFJ, on Canadian soil. 

In November last year, the US State Department said its intelligence had foiled a plot by the Indian state to assassinate pro-Khalistan campaigner Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. The murder-for-hire plot shocked the world.

In June last year, pro-Khalistan exiled leader Avtar Singh Khanda died mysteriously in a Birmingham hospital. His family have accused India of killing him for his political views, and they have called for justice from the UK government.

The Times newspaper reported this month that the UK intelligence had issued Osman Warning letters to Sikh activists in West Midlands of threat to their lives from the Indian state agents.

The Sikh Federation has blamed the current UK government under Rishi Sunak and the previous government for appeasing the Hindutva regime.

The Guardian report said that RAW was involved in at least 20 killings inside Pakistan since 2020. The paper said that the Sikh in the Khalistan movement were targeted as part of these Indian foreign operations, both in Pakistan and the West.

According to Pakistani investigators, these deaths were orchestrated by Indian intelligence sleeper cells abroad. The rise in killings in 2023 was credited to the increased activity of these cells, which are accused of paying millions of rupees to local criminals or poor Pakistanis to carry out the assassination. Indian agents also allegedly recruited militants to carry out the shootings, making them believe they were killing “infidels”.

Indian intelligence officers told the paper that India had drawn inspiration from intelligence agencies such as Israel’s Mossad and Russia’s KGB, which have been linked to extrajudicial killings on foreign soil. He also said the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashogi, who was murdered in 2018 in the Saudi embassy, had been directly cited by RAW officials.

“It was a few months after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that there was a debate among the top brass of intelligence in the prime minister’s office about how something can be learned from the case. One senior officer said in a meeting that if Saudis can do this, why not us?” he recounted.

A day after The Guardian report on the assassinations, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh confirmed that the government carried out extrajudicial killings in Pakistan.

“If any terrorist from a neighbouring country tries to disturb India or carry out terrorist activities here, he will be given a fitting reply. If he escapes to Pakistan we will go to Pakistan and kill him there,” Singh said during an interview to Indian TV news network News18.

Singh said that Prime Minister Modi had made it clear that this policy was “right” and that “India has the capability to do so. Pakistan has also started understanding this”.

Singh’s comments are the first time that India has acknowledged any assassination by its operatives on foreign soil.

The Indian intelligence operatives told The Guardian that Sikh activists living in Western countries such as the US, UK and Canada, who were vocal advocates of the separatist Khalistan movement, had become a focus of RAW’s foreign operations after 2020.

Five months ago, the US government charged Indian RAW agent Nikhil Gupta — accused of conspiring to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York around the time Nijjar was killed in Canada. Last month, Canada’s national broadcaster CBC revealed that Pannun was living under 24/7 protection in New York and changed location regularly to avoid Indian threats of assassination. He is leading the global Khalistan Referendum campaign from the platform of Sikhs For Justice.