Terror charges against Kiwi Sikh leader dropped
A New Zealand Sikh leader held in an Indian jail on terror charges has been released.
Former Auckland airport taxi driver Manpreet Singh was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act when he arrived at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport from Sydney in March.
Singh, a New Zealand citizen, was travelling with his wife and two children.
He has been kept in an Indian jail since his arrest and refused to accept bail because he wanted to clear his name quickly.
Today, a spokesman for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was understood the charges against Singh had been dropped.
"We're seeking to confirm that with the court in India," the spokesman said.
Daljit Singh, family spokesman and head of the New Zealand Supreme Sikh Council, said he believed the charges had been dropped because Manpreet was a NZ citizen.
"These cases take a lot of time usually, but we are confident that [charges were dropped] because he is a New Zealand citizen," he said today.
"He has lived in New Zealand for more than 20 years and worked as a social worker, he helped the community a lot," he said.
Daljit said Manpreet's family, who are in Sydney, were "delighted" he had been released.
Manpreet, a former head of the New Zealand Supreme Sikh Council, was described in Indian media as a "Sikh militant" who had made a jail break from a Punjab high security prison in 1999.
Daljit said Manpreet had in fact arrived in New Zealand in 1989.
Manpreet had been among 47 members of the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) arrested by police in 1987 and locked in a single cell. When they protested at conditions two students were shot dead by prison guards, Daljit said.
The prisoners were later released and charges were dropped against most of them.
Manpreet however fled Punjab and did not want to sign release documents, fearing they would be used against him later.
He managed eventually to get to New Zealand.
Daljit said Manpreet went to India on his New Zealand passport in 2009 with a visa issued by the Indian High Commission in Australia and stayed for 23 days.
During the trip, Manpreet was told he was still on a blacklist in India and attempted to resolve it then with Indian police. He was told that he needed to live in India for three months to clear his name.
In March this year, he went to do that.
While his family were allowed into India, he was arrested at the airport.
New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service has a close interest in AISSF links among Punjabi refugees in New Zealand. AISSF is described by Federal Indian authorities as a terrorist entity although it continues to legally exist.
The federation claims it is fighting for justice over what they claim were 3000 Sikh deaths in riots in 1984, sparked by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
They had killed her in revenge for her ordering the Indian Army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar were Sikh separatists were killed.
The 1987 incident which had led to the Manpreet's jailing was a student strike over some Sikh deaths in Punjab.
Manpreet and his family moved to Sydney 18 months ago.
He has been prominent in a number of incidents including one in 1999 when 16 Indian and Pakistani asylum-seekers staged a hunger strike at Mt Eden Prison in Auckland. They were eventually released.
In 2008 he was prominent in Sikh community reaction to the murder of Manurewa liquor store owner Navtej Singh.
Daljit said Manpreet would spend the next few days visiting his supporters in India, including high-ranking religious leaders and visiting Sikh temples before travelling to Auckland to thank his supporters here.
He would then travel to Sydney to be with his family.