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UK Role in Indian Army’s Attack on Darbar Sahib: Call for Independent Public Inquiry Intensifies After FoI Verdict

June 13, 2018 | By

London: Judge Murray Shanks, who presided over a three-day hearing in London in March has ordered the Cabinet Office that it must declassify secret papers about the Amritsar massacre in June 1984. Files may also reveal the extent of anti-Sikh measures taken in the UK at that time at the request of the Indian authorities.

The massacre by the Indian army at the Darbar Sahib Complex, in which thousands of Sikh and non-Sikh pilgrims were killed by Indian army troops “remains a source of deep pain to Sikhs everywhere”. These are the exact words of David Cameron in January 2014 when he ordered an internal review by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary and have been quoted in the judgement.

The legal ruling comes after journalist Phil Miller, who first exposed the SAS role, made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request at the end of 2014 for four Cabinet Office files from the period, that were being withheld from the National Archives. KRW LAW LLP and Counsel Julianne Kerr-Morrison of Monckton Chambers represented Phil Miller in preparing submissions for and acting during the tribunal.

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The Sikh Federation (UK), a groups of Sikhs in England, provided direct evidence for the tribunal and made robust public interest arguments during the hearing that have been recognised in the ruling.

The judgement states: “We accept the strength of feeling in the Sikh community in the UK and beyond about the “Amritsar massacre” and its aftermath and any role the UK government may have played in it.” In what will be seen as support for further disclosures the tribunal concluded there was “a very high public interest in disclosure of the withheld information”.

The Tribunal rejected the government’s argument that declassifying the papers would damage diplomatic ties with India. The Tribunal stated it “could not see that, after 30 years, there was a requirement to withhold any of the withheld material ‘for the purpose of safeguarding national security’.”

The files that must now be released in full include papers on UK-India relations from 1983 to 1985; meetings between Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi’s advisor; the situation in the Punjab, Sikh activities and the assassination of Mrs Gandhi in October 1984. The UK Cabinet Office has a month to appeal this decision.

In what is seen as a crucial development for an independent public inquiry the judge has specifically backed the Sikh Federation (UK) criticism of the Heywood review before it was published, stating “we also acknowledge the limitations of the Heywood review . . . in particular the speed with which it was carried out and the limited time period of the files that were looked at”.

The Labour Party of Britain has made a manifesto commitment to hold an independent public inquiry and following the ruling the leader and deputy leader have been requested to issue a statement and increase pressure on the Prime Minister.

It became public knowledge in January 2014 that prior to the Indian army assault Margaret Thatcher, secretly sent an SAS officer to controversially advise Indian army troops on the attack on the Sikhs’ holiest shrine months before the military operation. However, the exact advice given is being kept a secret and will not come into the public domain unless there is an independent public inquiry.

Journalist Phil Miller has detailed in the report Sacrificing Sikhs – the need for an investigation, commissioned by the Sikh Federation (UK), that was considered by the three-person tribunal, that the UK government provided other forms of military assistance in that period that the Heywood review almost certainly deliberately overlooked.

Jeremy Heywood was asked by Sikh Federation (UK) representatives at a meeting in January 2014 if the UK government had or would be sharing his report in advance with the Indian authorities. He categorically stated the report was for David Cameron, the Prime Minister and would be presented to Parliament and not be shared in advance with the Indian authorities. Although at that time Indian government officials claimed to have seen the report before it was presented in Parliament.

In a further twist the judgement officially reveals Owen Jenkins, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Director for South Asia and Afghanistan admitted when giving evidence that the UK government took the unusual “step of letting the Indian government have an advance copy of the Heywood review” before it was presented to Parliament.

Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “We welcome this judgement that confirms the Heywood review was limited and will add to the evidence we have already presented to prove it was a whitewash.”

“The judgement also reveals Heywood disturbingly lied to Sikh community representatives with senior Foreign Office officials now admitting for the first time and more than four years later that British Parliamentarians were presented with a report after it had been cleared by the Indian government.”

“Theresa May should reflect on the judgement and accept the British Sikh community and the public deserve the truth nearly 35 years later with an independent public inquiry. She should not listen to those paranoid about relations with India.”

“We also call on those interested in the truth in India to campaign for disclosure of papers relating to the planning and execution of the June 1984 Amritsar massacre.”


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