STOCKTON, CA, USA: April 13, 2013 – Ravinderjit Singh Gogi, a U.S. citizen from Central California, has been jailed in Punjab, India since February 26, but despite repeated appeals from his family, local community leaders, and a human rights group, the U.S. government has so far failed to even acknowledge his detention.
Ravinderjit Singh Gogi in police custody; at left is the police officer accused of beating Gogi.
Harsimran Singh Hundal, a community leader from Turlock Gurdwara, says Sikhs have a duty to bring Gogi’s case to the attention of local congressional representatives. “We are pleading with Sikh-Americans to do their seva by calling their congressperson today, especially Gogi’s representative, Congressman Jerry McNerney. Please appeal for the immediate release of this innocent, suffering, imprisoned American.”
Gogi is charged with India’s Criminal Procedure Code sections 107/151, which allow police to arrest a person if they think he is “likely to commit a breach of the peace.” Although Gogi did not actually breach the peace, police used the law to arrest him under suspicion alone after he visited his father, Surat Singh Khalsa, in the hospital. Khalsa was engaged in a hunger-strike for the release of Sikh political prisoners when he was arrested and forcibly admitted to the hospital.
On Monday, Gogi’s sister Sarvinder Kaur, also an American citizen, reported from Punjab that she witnessed police beating her brother while he was waiting in a detention cell for a court hearing. Gogi, who was in chains at the time, was reportedly shoved into the cell and beaten on his neck and back with fists. His attorney, Gurjinder Singh Sahni, states Gogi now has severe bruising, is suffering intense pain in his neck, and is seeking medical attention.
“The silence of the U.S. authorities is deafening,” says Bhajan Singh, Founding Director of US-based Sikh Information Centre. Singh has been urging Gogi’s representative in U.S. Congress, Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), to appeal for his constituent. “The poor guy is suffering as we speak, but the Sikh Congressional Caucus, the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, and all of the several influential Sikh-American civil rights groups have not spoken one word on Gogi’s behalf. The State Department also remains mute.”
Sikh Information Centre has coordinated with Organization for Minorities of India and the leadership of Turlock, Stockton, and West Sacramento Sikh Gurdwaras to sponsor two press conferences calling for Gogi’s release.
On March 6, Gogi’s 16-year-old son, Sahib, spoke at a press conference in Lathrop, his father’s hometown. McNerney’s office was informed of the event but said they were unable to attend. At the event, Sahib stated:
“The freedom and the liberties that we have here aren’t exactly the same in other countries. That’s kind of what we’re worried about…. I have to stay up at night time for extra, till a long period of time, trying to talk to the embassy, trying to get them to free my dad.”
On March 12, West Sacramento Gurdwara and Stockton Gurdwara hosted a joint press conference in West Sacramento to call for Gogi’s release. Balbir Singh Dhillon, president of West Sacramento Gurdwara, explained how he was similarly unjustly detained in Punjab in 1996, saying: “I went to visit all the holy places in India and Pakistan. Police were looking for me. I was sent to jail for three months, in prison, in Punjab. There was no bail.” Balbir was released only after over 50 US congressional representatives signed a letter to the US State Department that pressured India to admit it had no proof he committed any crime.
Steve Macías asks: “Why is this American citizen abandoned by his government?” A community activist who helped organize the March press conferences, Macías added: “Mr. Ravinderjit Singh Gogi has been jailed for nearly two months, he is being beaten by police, and his family reports the conditions of his detention are utterly inhumane, with rancid food and 200 prisoners packed into cells designed for fifty.”
The State Department must intervene immediately, warns Bhajan Singh, who says: “I fear for Gogi’s safety and even his life if the government continues to ignore the desperate plight of this unjustly imprisoned American citizen. Congress already missed the chance to act against the severe persecution of minorities in India by failing to pass House Resolution 417 in 2014 despite broad bipartisan support for the resolution.” House Resolution 417 proposed the U.S. Congress “denounce harassment and violence against religious minorities” in India, but even with 51 cosponsors it was denied a hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.