The White House has declined comment on the case of Jagtar Singh Hawara, the main accused in the August 1995 assassination of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh.
“We cannot comment here on the specific foreign criminal justice matter raised in your petition,” the White House said on Friday in its official response to the demand for the release of Hawara, named jathedar (head) of Akal Takht by some radical Sikhs.
The White House responds to “We the People” petitions filed on its website once it reaches a threshold of 100,000 signatures.
The petition initiated by New York based “Sikhs For Justice” (SFJ) in November 2015 urging “the President to seek release of Jathedar Hawara from India,” gathered 106,320 signatures.
“The president has made it clear that our nation’s deep respect for religious liberty and pluralism must not stop at our shores,” the White House said.
In an address to the people of India last year, it recalled, President Barack Obama “stressed the importance of these fundamental principles to both our democracies”.
“In both our countries, in India and in America, our diversity is our strength. And we have to guard against any efforts to divide ourselves along sectarian lines or any other lines,” it said, citing Obama’s address during his visit to India last year to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade.
“And if we do that well, if America shows itself as an example of its diversity and yet the capacity to live and work together in common effort, in common purpose; if India, as massive as it is, with so much diversity, so many differences is able to continually affirm its democracy, that is an example for every other country on the Earth.”
The US, the White House said, “remains committed to coordinating with governments around the world to promote religious freedom for all citizens.”
It encouraged the petitioners “to continue to use the We the People platform to petition the administration to take action on the policy issues you care about, but we cannot comment here on the specific foreign criminal justice matter raised in your petition.”
In its November 10 petition, the SFJ suggested “jathedar Hawara, is incarcerated for assassinating Beant Singh, the then chief minister of Punjab. Beant was responsible for death of over 100,000 Sikhs and his death put an end to Genocide of Sikhs”.
“Jathedar Hawara, being pro-Khalistan, faces risk of being eliminated,” it said, alleging that “in 1993, another pro-Khalistan Jathedar, Gurdev Singh Kaunke was murdered by the Indian government”.
“Jathedar Hawara is undergoing ‘imprisonment till death’, a sentence which flouts the fundamental principles of justice and continuous detention of supreme religious leader will create discontentment in Sikhs,” it said.
Saying “Hawara’s act of Beant’s assassination is political in nature,” SFJ legal advisor Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said, it “will continue to pursue this further as the US administration is obligated to intervene in such matters under International Religious Freedom Act of 1998”.