Czech Republic sends Indian suspect in plot to kill Sikh separatist to US

If convicted after his extradition, Nikhil Gupta faces up to 20 years in prison.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun
Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has advocated for the creation of a sovereign Sikh state and is considered a 'terrorist' by the Indian government [Ted ShaffreyAP Photo]

The Czech Republic has extradited an Indian man to the United States who is suspected of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist.

Czech Justice Minister Pavel Blazek announced on Monday that Nikhil Gupta was delivered into US custody last week. Washington has alleged the suspect was part of a plot directed by the Indian government.

Gupta is accused by US federal prosecutors of plotting with intelligence and security officials to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US and Canadian citizen who advocated for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.

Czech authorities arrested the 52-year-old Gupta after he travelled to Prague from India in June last year. Last month, a Czech court rejected his petition to avoid being sent to the US, clearing the way for the Czech justice minister to extradite him.

Blazek noted on X that he gave the green light two weeks ago.

 

Translation: On the basis of my decision on [June 3], the Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta, who is suspected of conspiracy to commit murder for hire with intent to cause death, was extradited to the US on Friday for criminal prosecution.

Gupta’s Czech attorney, Petr Slepicka, previously told The Associated Press that he was planning to file a constitutional complaint to the country’s highest legal authority to ask the minister not to allow the extradition. “It’s a political case,” he said.

In November, US prosecutors announced a plot to kill Pannun had been thwarted after a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Gupta was arrested in Prague under an extradition treaty between the US and the Czech Republic. He denied any involvement in the case.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Shaky diplomatic ties

New Delhi has long complained about Sikh separatist groups outside India, viewing them as security threats. The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan, an independent Sikh state to be carved out of India.

But alleged plots targeting them have tested US and Canadian relations with India despite the country being viewed by the West as a counter to China’s rising global influence.

Canada said in September that its intelligence agencies were pursuing allegations linking India’s government to the killing of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in June 2023. India has rejected the accusation as absurd.

India’s government has also sought to dissociate itself from the plot against Pannun, saying such a tatic was against government policy. It said it will formally investigate security concerns raised by Washington.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom connected the alleged assassination attempt on Pannun as part of a broader pattern of violence against religious minorities in India.

But last month, Washington said it was satisfied so far with India’s moves to ensure accountability in the alleged plots while adding that many steps still needed to be taken.

INTERACTIVE - Sikhs in India

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies