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After two months detention in India, U.S. Citizen released without charges

April 28, 2015 | By

Ludhiana, Punjab: After two months in an Indian jail, charged under a preventive law for visiting his father in the hospital, U.S. citizen Ravinderjit Singh Gogi was released from indefinite detention in India on Monday (April 27), just two weeks after formal appeals from seven United States congressional representatives.

Ravinderjit Singh Gogi was arrested on February 26 from the bedside of his hospitalized father. Both were held indefinitely, and Gogi was never arraigned before a judge despite four scheduled and subsequently canceled court hearings. His father was unexpectedly released on April 23 with all charges dropped, but the family hibys both were tortured in custody.

Ravinderjit Singh Gogi returns to the side of his hunger-striking father, Surat Singh Khalsa

Ravinderjit Singh Gogi returns to the side of his hunger-striking father, Surat Singh Khalsa

In January, Gogi flew from California to visit his 83-year-old father, Surat Singh Khalsa, who began a hunger-strike in his village near Ludhiana, Punjab, India on January 16 to protest unjust prison conditions in India. Police seized Khalsa from his home on February 8, transferring him to a hospital. Gogi and several other family members from the United States were glued to their frail father’s side at the hospital, but on February 27, several hundred police officers descended on the hospital, arresting Khalsa, Gogi, journalist Surinder Singh, and others.

Gogi and his father were both charged with Criminal Procedure Codes 107 (“apprehension of breach of peace and tranquility of an area”) and 151 (“arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences”). The family and advocates for Gogi’s release repeatedly noted he was not charged with a criminal act but only with being suspected of the possibility he might breach the peace. Indian police alleged Gogi breached the peace by encouraging Khalsa’s hunger-strike, although Gogi’s sister, Sarvinder Kaur, says, “Our father is a grown man and he made his own decision.”

Both father and son faced torture in custody, says the family. Khalsa’s daughter Sarvrinder says, “They really tortured my father. When he was picked up on 8 February, he was literally picked up and thrown on the stretcher. He was holding on the sheets very tightly, and saying I will not go, it is my right to peacefully protest. His turban was knocked off and fell on the ground. In the hospital, they were trying to give him food through the mouth. He was denying, but four or five policemen just pushed him down. Forcefully trying to give him juice, he did not drink. He was unconscious and they put the foodpipe through his nose and they were torturing him.”

In remarks to OFMI after his release, Khalsa said, “When they forcibly imprisoned me, after they stitched the tube to my head, every day afterwards, whenever I needed something like the bathroom, or was bleeding in my bed, I would ask the nurses and the police surrounding me in my hospital room, but they simply ignored me.”

Meanwhile, Gogi was detained in the Ludhiana Jail. “My dad is being tortured,” Gogi’s 17-year-old son Sahib told his representative, Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), at a meeting on April 15. He explained that Gogi was escorted to a court hearing on April 13 when his police escort pushed him into a court detention cell and began beating him severely around his face and upper body using a handcuff chain.

Upon learning of his detention, Gogi’s family found supporters in California and began demanding his release on March 6 when Sahib and Gogi’s brother-in-law, Kulwant, joined community leaders for a press conference at the Chamber of Commerce in Lathrop, Gogi’s hometown in California. Gogi, who became an American citizen in 1996, owns a truck-driving school in Lathrop. At a March 12 press conference at the West Sacramento Gurdwara, Manjit Singh Uppal, who is the former president of Stockton Gurdwara (the oldest Sikh gurdwara in the U.S.), remarked:

“I know Ravinder Singh. He goes to our temple. I’ve known him for a long, long time. At least 10 years to 15 years. What’s happening to him, he doesn’t deserve it. He’s a very peaceful, loving man, a hard-working man. We’re trying to bring awareness to the Sikh community all over America and Canada that he’s illegally being detained without any causes and they arrested him for just being there, supporting his dad’s hunger-strike.”

On April 15, the same day that eight of Gogi’s family members met with his representative, Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), McNerney joined six other California representatives in issuing a letter asking Secretary of State John Kerry to “look into the charges brought against Mr. Singh and Mr. Khalsa.” According to official correspondence between Gogi’s family and the U.S. State Department’s Citizen Services Officer for India, the U.S. government did not formally contact India on Gogi’s behalf until April 17. Bhajan Singh, the Founding Director of Organization for Minorities of India, a U.S.-based human rights group that partnered with Gogi’s family, said:

“It’s no surprise that just six days after U.S. congressional representatives began speaking out, the federal government finally protested Gogi and Khalsa’s unjust arrest. That they spent almost two months in detention before any American authorities said anything is something for which the American Sikh Congressional Caucus ought to answer. Their release is the best news and is only due to the tireless efforts of family members in California.”

Khalsa, who holds permanent residency in the United States, remains on hunger-strike in a demand for the release of Sikh political prisoners who have completed their sentences in Indian jails, are eligible for release, but remain imprisoned. Most of the prisoners were arrested during the 1980’s and 1990’s for protesting events like the Indian State’s invasion of the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, the 1984 Sikh Genocide sponsored by the ruling Congress Party, and the ensuing decade of death squads that systematically “disappeared” tens of thousands of Sikhs. Khalsa, who is on the verge of starving to death, states: “The struggle will continue until the political Sikh prisoners are released.”

Although Gogi and his father have been released, the family in Punjab says Khalsa is still on virtual house arrest. His daughter, Sarvrinder, notes: “The same day I was returning from meeting with the President of India, police called me to say that my father was going to be released. But now we are at home, I have 15 or more police officers from CID, IB, and Punjab Police surrounding my house and many more ringing our village. I am still worried about my father. I am happy he is home with me today, that he is relaxed at home and does not have those food pipes all around him. He is still not eating and says he will not eat anything until his demands are answered. But I do not know if this is good news because of the police all around our village who are stopping people before they enter and denying visitors to our house.”

Khalsa passed his hundredth day of hunger-strike on April 25. Gogi reunited with his father on April 27. He has not yet decided when he will return to the United States, as his father appears near death.

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