UK

Sikhs protest in London over India death penalty

Balwant Singh Rajoana (Photo: Rajesh Sachar)
Image caption Rajoana's pending execution has stirred controversy in India (Photo: Rajesh Sachar)

A group of UK-based Sikhs have protested outside the Houses of Parliament as part of a campaign to end the death penalty in India.

Members of Kesri Lehar condemn the death sentences imposed on four Sikhs, including one convicted for the assassination of an Indian politician.

The BBC's Robert Pigott says the threat of execution is seen by some Sikhs as a key part of oppression against them.

India's High Commission says use of the death penalty is valid under its laws.

Saturday's protest, organised by campaign group Kesri Lehar, aimed to draw attention to the fate of Bulwant Singh Rajoana, who was sentenced to death in 2007 for his role in the 1995 assassination of Beant Singh, the chief minister of Punjab state, in India.

According to BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott, he has become a potent symbol to many Sikhs of what they claim has been a campaign of oppression against them, and of their call for an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab.

'Demonstrations planned'

However, our correspondent says that one leading academic has warned the continuing demonstrations focused on conditions in Punjab could alienate young Sikhs and undermine the creation of a well integrated British Sikh identity.

But he adds that the Sikh Council has denied the widespread interest in Punjab threatens the community's excellent record of integration.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in London said the death penalty had been challenged repeatedly, but had been found by the Supreme Court to be valid under the country's constitution.

Beant Singh was killed on 31 August 1995, along with 17 others by a suicide bomber identified as Dilawar Singh. Rajoana was convicted of acting as a back-up suicide bomber should Singh have failed.

Rajoana - whose hanging was postponed by Indian officials in March 2012 - has not appealed against his sentence.

Executions are comparatively rare in India where hundreds of convicts are awaiting the death penalty.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving attacker from the 2008 Mumbai attack, was executed in November 2012, while Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru was hanged in February.

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