Democrats say State Department should press India over Sikh activist assassination plot

A group of Democratic senators is urging the State Department to increase pressure on the Indian government, following “credible allegations” it was involved in a failed plot to assassinate a Sikh activist, who was also a U.S. citizen, on American soil.

In a letter sent Monday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senators urged a “strong diplomatic response to ensure that all of those who were involved are held accountable.”

The group, led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), also requested a briefing to understand the extent of the U.S. government’s “engagement with the Indian government on this matter.”

“While we fully support the DOJ’s efforts to bring Gupta to justice and the Department of State’s prior statements, the Administration must match words with actions to hold Indian officials involved in the plot accountable, and to send a clear message that there will be consequences for such behavior,” Merkley wrote in the letter, which was signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“It is imperative that we take an unequivocal stand against such a threat to the rights of a U.S. citizen and violation of U.S. sovereignty, which are examples of India’s increasingly irresponsible efforts to silence critics of its government among its diaspora around the world,” the letter continued.

The Justice Department in November accused Indian national Nikhil Gupta in an unsealed indictment of participating in a failed assassination plot of Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who lives in New York and is a U.S. citizen.

The indictment said Pannun was recruited by an unidentified Indian government official. Pannun, who supports the secession of Punjab from India and the creation of a sovereign Sikh state, is considered a terrorist by the Indian government.

Gupta was arrested in Prague last June, after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) foiled the assassination plot against Pannun. Gupta denies involvement in the plot.

On Friday, Gupta was extradited from the Czech Republic to the United States to face charges of murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire, Czech Justice Minister Pavel Blažek said on Monday.

The Associated Press reported that Gupta’s Czech attorney, Petr Slepička, previously said he was planning to file a constitutional complaint to the country’s highest legal authority and asked the minister not to allow the extradition, calling it a “political case.”

As the United States continues to seek deeper ties with India, the senators urged the administration to “be firm and resolute in opposing transnational repression, no matter the perpetrator.”

“The United States and India have a crucial relationship across multiple domains – from security cooperation, to trade and investment, to strong cultural and people-to-people ties. As the two largest democracies in the world, this partnership must not only be based on mutual strategic interests, but also grounded in shared commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law, including respect for sovereignty and the individual rights and freedoms that are fundamental to any democracy,” they wrote in the letter.

They later added: “India must maintain its commitment to respecting human rights at home and abroad as it aspires to global leadership. Now that India’s 2024 general election has concluded, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Modi returning to power, the United States has an opportunity to include this issue as a core agenda item with the Indian government.”

The Hill has reached out to the State Department for a response.

The Associated Press contributed.

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