NEWS
19/11/2018 14:56 GMT | Updated 19/11/2018 21:19 GMT

Activists Call For UK-Wide Ban On Cops Entering Sikh Temples As Tensions Escalate

The community is angry after a series of anti-terror raids.

Neil Hall / Reuters

Sikh activists are calling for police officers to be banned from temples in the UK after accusing West Midlands Police of spying on them.

The call comes as video footage emerged online showing police officers being kicked out of a Sikh temple in Walsall, West Midlands, where they’d set up a recruitment stand. 

In an unprecedented move some of the country’s most influential Sikh organisations agreed to ban West Midlands Police from temples and backed a nationwide exclusion.

Tension between the Sikh community and West Midlands Police has been rising since its counter-terror unit carried out raids on British Sikhs campaigning for an independent homeland in India.

Sikhs claim the force targeted them at the behest of Indian intelligence services following the arrest of a Scottish Sikh, Jagtar Singh Johal, in north India last November.

The 31-year-old has reportedly been tortured during his time in prison in Punjab where he faces charges of financing the murders of several prominent Hindu politicians.

Johal’s supporters say he was peacefully running a social media campaign that highlighted documented human rights abuses against Sikhs by the Indian authorities. 

During the confrontation with police captured at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Caldmore, Walsall, last week,  a member of Sikh Youth UK appears to tell officers: “Pack up your bags and go. West Midlands Police is banned from Sikh spaces.

“You are interfering in Indian matters, you are spying on the Sikh community.

“We are asking you nicely and humbly to pack your stuff up.”

A spokesman for the Sikh Federation, which represents most of the UK’s main Sikh temples, said: “A unanimous decision was taken a few days ago by all the leading Sikh organisations that all West Midlands Police officers be banned from entering Sikh temples on police business. 

“This is because we believe the force has been sharing and acting intelligence extracted under torture by Johal’s interrogators.

“In effect they are spying on us and sharing that with the Indian government who want to silence the call for an independent Sikh homeland.”

 

The spokesman added that human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce was representing the Sikhs whose homes were raided.

He said: “Gareth told a parliamentary meeting of Sikhs last week that the British authorities had a history of acting on intelligence gathered under torture, and cited examples at Guantanamo Bay.”

It is not the first time West Midlands Police has been accused of spying on ethnic minorities in the region. A report in 2010 ruled that the force secretly put large Muslim communities under surveillance using cameras they pretended were for crime prevention.

West Midlands police had told residents the mix of CCTV and number plate recognition devices were to help cut anti-social behaviour and vehicle crime.

But the network in Birmingham was actually being run by its counter-terrorism unit with the consent of the Home Office and MI5.

The £3 million scheme, called Project Champion, was intended to monitor Muslims entering and leaving mainly Muslim areas of Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath. It was halted after an outcry from residents and civil rights campaigners.

Responding to news of the “ban” from parts of the Sikh community, a West Midlands Police spokesman told Huffpost UK: “Detectives searched a number of properties on September 18 as part of a West Midlands Counter Terrorism Uni investigation based on intelligence gathered over a period of time.

“The warrants were scrutinised and issued by the courts and the searches were in connection with allegations of terrorist offences in the UK relating to activity in India, and also fraud offences.

“The investigation is led by WMCTU and is not directed by the UK or Indian Government.

“The search warrants were not related to the detention of Jagtar Singh Johal, nor any protest activity in respect of his detention.”

He added: “Last week West Midlands Police attended a recruitment event at a Gurdwara in Walsall.

“During this event one member of the public had a heated discussion with an officer. 

“Following this, it was decided the best course of action was for police to leave the event. 

“West Midlands Police has excellent relationships with its communities, this includes the Sikh community and officers continue to be welcomed into Gurdwaras and other religious buildings.”

But a spokesman for the National Sikh Youth Federation said it had imposed a UK-wide ban on all British police officers from “utilising Sikh spaces.”

He added: “West Midlands Police is being at best disingenuous to say that they continue to be welcomed to Sikh temples when that is categorically not the case. 

“At worst their dismissive attitude to the ban appears to be goading the Sikh community and is a very confrontational stance to take.”

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs Council, said it was monitoring developments and would let West Midlands Police take the lead as it was the only force currently directly affected by the ban.

UPDATE: This article was amended on the day of publication to clarify that the Sikh Federation’s support of a ban on entering Sikh gurdwaras extends only to West Midlands Police officers.