On 29 March 2001 the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) was declared a proscribed organisation in the UK, along with 20 other organisations. This followed the approval of the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001 in the House of Lords on 27 March.
There was much press speculation that the list of proscribed organisations would be extended to other organisations such as militant Islamic groups, Basque Separatists (ETA), Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
There was no indication whatsoever
that the Government was considering banning any Sikh organisations in the UK.
The ISYF being a responsible organisation acted as a calming influence over the hysteria that could have resulted following the surprise announcement on 28 February 2001. The ISYF consulted widely in the Sikh community and with other Sikh organisations, Members of Parliament and human rights and civil liberties groups.
Having undertook widespread consultation and considered carefully how best to respond to the draft Order a strategy was developed and a campaign launched with the ultimate objective of clearing the good name of the ISYF.
The ISYF declared in a Press Release
issued on 6 March 2001 that the campaign would take many forms including extensive
lobbying of Members of Parliament, offers to meet the Home Secretary, applications
for deproscription and legal challenge in the way of appeals to the Proscribed
Organisations Appeal Commission, the Court of Appeal and if needed challenge
in the European Court of Human Rights.
Members of Parliament familiar with the ISYF were briefed on the extent to which the note presented to them by the Home Secretary was inaccurate and misleading. The main points made to constituency MPs familiar with the ISYF were:
The ISYFs aims and objectives are not simply related to the creation of an independent state of Khalistan. It was pointed out that the ISYF was founded in September 1984 with the following aims and objectives:
1. To promote Sikh philosophy and the
Sikh way of life.
2. To promote and preserve the Sikh heritage and culture.
3. To speak out against Human Rights violations.
4. To act as a voice of the oppressed Sikhs of India.
5. To peacefully work towards establishing an independent homeland for the Sikhs - Khalistan.
The note presented by the Home Secretary made no mention of the first four key aims and objectives. As regards the fifth aim/objective the note failed to mention the ISYF "peacefully" campaigns for the establishment of an independent homeland for the Sikhs - Khalistan.
The ISYF declared that it does not participate or encourage terrorism and it was simply not true that it had been involved in terrorist activities since the 1980s and that these activities still continued. After all no specific incidents of such activities by the ISYF was provided.
The note produced by the Home Secretary referred to ISYF attacks including assassinations, bombings and kidnappings. However, not a single example was supplied in the note. [Nor was any example disclosed during the debate in the House of Commons or House of Lords]
As regards reference to Mukhtiar and Paramjit Singh it was stressed the note presented by the Home Secretary was incorrect, as they were not members of the ISYF. No evidence had therefore been presented to Parliament to substantiate the allegations of terrorist support activity by the ISYF.
At the outset the ISYF being an organisation with strong religious and youth affiliations, rather than an organisation with political aspirations of its own, understood the vast majority of the 659 MPs would take the Home Secretarys note on face value. After all most MPs had never had any direct contact with the ISYF and were therefore unfamiliar with its activities.
It is worth noting that despite many references to the ISYF in debates in Parliament not a single Member of Parliament or member of the House of Lords has to date supported the allegations against the ISYF and expressed any negative comments about the activities of the ISYF. This in itself is testimony to the innocence of the ISYF.
Apart from lobbying individual constituency Members of Parliament about the inaccurate and misleading information about the ISYF a delegation from the ISYF also met with representatives of the All-Party Punjabis in Britain Group. A briefing note relating to the ISYF for the House of Commons debate was produced highlighting the following general arguments:
proscription was a serious attack on basic human rights
there was a lack of sufficient information on each organisation
there was a lack of substantive evidence against individual organisations and the procedure and process of proscription was unfair
the draft Order may be viewed as "racist" and designed to appease foreign governments - all 21 organisations covered by the draft Order related to individuals from ethnic minority communities calling for political change abroad - with no organisations involved in "domestic" terrorism, such as extreme right wing groups e.g. Combat 18.
As regards the ISYF is was highlighted that:
Banning the ISYF and criminalising membership was a serious attack on the basic rights of free speech and free assembly by the Sikh community in the UK. The human rights of the Sikhs in the UK and the 200,000 supporters of the ISYF needed to be protected from the proposed legislation.
Prominent member of the ISYF was recently awarded an OBE to become one of the youngest civilians to receive such an honour and that this was on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to HM Queen
The Prime Minister met the UK National President of the ISYF and other senior ISYF activists to celebrate the 300th Anniversary of the Birth of the Sikh Nation
The Prime Minister wrote to the ISYF a few months ago apologising that because of other commitments he regretted that he could not attend the ISYF annual convention and join a number of Members of Parliament.
Although the Home Secretary mentioned the threat posed by the ISYF of attacks against Indian officials visiting the UK no attacks have taken place so there was no evidence to support proscription of the ISYF on this basis.
Strangely enough despite allegations of assassinations, bombings and kidnappings by the ISYF since the 1980s not a single example from the last 16 years could be provided. Therefore, no evidence was presented to show the ISYF carried out any attacks.
To minimise opposition to the draft Order and limit the level of lobbying the debate in the House of Commons was arranged for 13 March 2001 - the earliest possible opportunity following the four days of debate on the Budget. Similarly the debate in the House of Lords was arranged for 17 March.
To make the situation even worse the debate in the House of Commons was limited to one and a half hours and set to take place between 11.00 and 12.30 at night. However, despite the limited time for lobbying Members of Parliament and a restricted debate in the early hours of the morning the ISYF received overwhelming support from MPs from all political parties. The Government could not pass the Order that night in the House of Commons due to the level of opposition.
Some important concessions were secured
during the debate and the Home Secretary also made a significant admission as
regards intelligence information relating to the ISYF.
The Debate in the House of Commons
Commenting on de-proscription the Home Secretary said he would "take into account representations made in the House today, as well as any others that are made by right hon. and hon. Members."
In his closing remarks he said "To all right hon. and hon. Members who spoke about individual organisations I would say that we will take full account of what has been said here and, obviously, of further representations made if, as I suspect, a number of those organisations that have been mentioned apply, initially to me, for de-proscription."
The Home Secretary's comments in response to concern regarding intelligence evidence relating to the ISYF was that "Intelligence that is wrong is worse than worthless; it can be extremely dangerous. In human organisations errors can sometimes be made".
The ISYF issued a Press Release on 14 March detailing the level of support received in the House of Commons. However, the parliamentary procedure was such that Members of Parliament were not given an opportunity to amend the draft Order before them and exclude organisations such as the ISYF from the Order.
Members of Parliament also demonstrated they were concerned that they were not given an opportunity to have sufficient discussion on each of the organisations, which casts doubt on the validity of the decision made.
The success of the campaign in the House of Commons and concerns from Members of Parliament was reflected in the government delaying the debate in the House of Lords from 17 March to 27 March.
The ISYF in a written statement issued by solicitors following approval of the Draft Order in the House of Lords on 27 March suspended the organisation with immediate effect. This decision was consistent with the organisations long standing commitment to lawful behaviour, and to protect its 200,000 supporters in the UK. The ISYF stated it would remain suspended until de-proscribed but would pursue lawful challenge, if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights.
Although the ISYF has been banned and the organisation suspended until de-proscription, activities including promoting the Sikh religion, campaigning for human rights and peacefully lobbying for an independent Sikh state - Khalistan have been acknowledged by the UK government as legitimate activities. Therefore, for the time being these activities are being continued by prominent Sikhs, previously associated with the ISYF.
The events in the past few months have totally back-fired on the corrupt and dishonest Indian authorities as the awareness of the UK government and politicians from all political parties about the plight of Sikhs in India has increased.
Many politicians have met with representatives from the ISYF for the first time and have been impressed with their professionalism and dedication. It has been recognised these individuals truly represent the genuine voice of the Sikhs in the UK and that this voice cannot be silenced despite the efforts of the Indian authorities to stop political opposition and criticism from abroad.
A political process has now started
and a momentum established that will not go into reverse. This is without doubt
a major step forward in the campaign for establishing an
independent Sikh state - Khalistan.
The ISYFs 200,000 supporters if operating under the name of the ISYF will be regarded as "criminals" and could be arrested at any time, fined and imprisoned for up to 10 years for simply being associated with a banned organisation. However, as the ISYF decided to suspend itself as an organisation on 27 March 2001 this situation does not arise.
Anyone inviting a supporter of the ISYF to speak at a meeting could be fined and imprisoned for up to 10 years. However, this situation also cannot arise as the ISYF has suspended itself as an organisation.
Anyone wearing a garment or holding a banner in a public place demonstrating support for the ISYF could be fined and imprisoned for up to 6 months.
Anyone directing, at any level, the
activities of the ISYF is liable to life imprisonment. Again this situation
cannot arise as the ISYF has suspended itself as an organisation.
Introduction of the new Terrorism Act
The new Terrorism Act came into effect on 19 February 2001. The Act included a list of 14 proscribed organisations all concerned with terrorism relating to Northern Ireland.
There was much press speculation that the list of proscribed organisations would be extended to other organisations such as, militant Islamic groups, Basque separatists (ETA), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
However, there was no indication whatsoever that the Government was considering banning any Sikh organisations in the UK.
Draft Order to proscribe an additional 21 organisations
On 28 February 2001 and in response to a Parliamentary Question the Home Secretary laid a draft Order recommending 21 organisations be added to the list of proscribed organisations. To the surprise of the Sikh community the draft Order included the names of two Sikh organisations the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) and the Babbar Khalsa.
The draft Order was subject to the affirmative resolution procedure requiring debates in both Houses of Parliament. The Home Secretary produced a note setting out a brief summary in respect of each organisation named in the draft Order. The note produced by the Home Secretary on the ISYF has been proved to be inaccurate, incomplete, vague and misleading.
THE BAN ON THE ISYF BREACHES FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS