Britain has initiated the first step towards lifting the 15-year-old ban on the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), a pro-Khalistan group previously involved in assassinations, bombings and kidnappings mainly directed at India and Indian interests.
The ban imposed on the group in 2001 is to be lifted on March 18 after the House of Lords approves the draft on Thursday.
The decision is likely to raise hackles in India, where the organisation is also banned, besides Canada and other countries.
Minister for security John Hayes told the House there had been consultations with India and other countries before the decision was made to “de-proscribe” ISYF. Since there was no reason to continue the ban on ISYF, it will be lifted on March 18, he said.
“Having reviewed, with other countries, what information is available about the current activities of the ISYF and after careful and appropriate consideration, the home secretary concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that the ISYF is currently concerned with terrorism, as defined by section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000,” Hayes said.
The ISYF was launched in Britain in 1984 as the international branch of the All India Sikh Students Federation.
Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, wondered if diplomatic pressure from India was responsible for the ban continuing for so long. The move to lift the ban was supported by MPs, including senior Labour lawmaker Keith Vaz.
Labour MP Rob Marris, the chair of the all-party group on British Sikhs, welcomed the move but asked Hayes to explain why home secretary Theresa May insisted in July 2015 that ISYF continued to pose a threat and subsequently changed her mind in December 2015.
Marris also noted that the Home Office had recently issued a press statement saying: “The British government has always been clear that the ISYF was a brutal terrorist organisation.” He added, “That may be the case, but things seem to have changed very quickly in a short period.”
The explanatory memorandum on the statutory instrument says: “An application was made to the secretary of state for the de-proscription of the International Sikh Youth Federation. The secretary of state has now decided that there is insufficient information to conclude that the group remains concerned in terrorism.”
The lifting of the ban was sought through an appeal before the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission by Sikh Federation UK, which describes itself as an NGO that “works with each of the main political parties to promote relevant Sikh issues”.
Keith Vaz also sought a review of the ban on the LTTE. “Some of the 7,000 members of the Tamil community in my constituency…are concerned about the fact that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is still proscribed. Even though that organisation was abolished and destroyed years ago, they still feel under a certain amount of pressure. It is time to review,” he said.