The manhunt for separatist leader Amritpal Singh continues
Indian police have shut down the internet in the Punjab region as part of an operation to apprehend a separatist leader. The initiative began last weekend, and while the manhunt for Amritpal Singh is ongoing, the online restrictions were mostly lifted on Tuesday, according to official reports.
This was part of the police's attempt to apprehend Singh, the leader of the Waris Punjab De organization, which calls for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh state. To arrest him, the authorities have deployed various measures across the whole state of Punjab, including installing roadblocks and banning protests and any mass gatherings.
The police also shut down internet access and SMS services for the region's residents to "prevent any incitement to violence and any disturbance of peace and public order." The Indian government also requested that Twitter withhold 122 accounts, which the authorities deemed linked to Singh, according to an official order, as cited by the media.
Singh gained notoriety when he led an armed protest at a police station in Ajnala, a small town in Punjab, in February. Hundreds of his followers stormed the building with guns and swords, demanding the release of Lovepreet 'Toofan' Singh, who they believe was wrongfully accused of a kidnapping. This event was the trigger for the current manhunt against Singh, with the police accusing him and Waris Punjab De of "anti-national activities," among other crimes.
Punjab police chief Sukhchain Singh Gill announced that, during this operation, the authorities arrested 154 people "for disturbing peace and harmony" and 37 more were "taken in preventive custody." He added that, despite the efforts of law enforcement officers, the separatist leader managed to escape by motorcycle, after changing clothes to avoid identification. However, Gill stated that many of Singh's allies, including those who helped him evade the police, were now in custody.
Sikh politicians in India and abroad have condemned the sweeping police measures and targeting of "innocent Sikh" people. The president of the Sikh-centric Shiromani Akali Dal party, Sukhbir Singh Badal, called the manhunt a "reign of repression and terror" aimed at defaming "the most patriotic Sikh community" in a tweet on Monday.
Simranjit Singh Mann, an Indian MP and leader of the similarly-named Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) party, called the police measures "draconian" during a news conference on Monday.
British Sikhs sympathizing with Amritpal Singh gathered in demonstration around the Indian High Commission complex in London and brandished Khalistan banners on Sunday. Some protesters turned violent and broke the windows of the building and attacked the guards, according to the British police. UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has condemned the acts of violence against the Indian mission as "unacceptable."