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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-19-10-2008-00.htm

Press Release: 19th Oct 2008, Sunday      5th Katik (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi )

Press Release

Read this Press Release in Panjabi at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-19-10-2008-00_grmkhi.htm
Sikhs Protest against Belgian Police who Stopped their Prayers

Police Raid Sikh Gurdwara During Continuous Prayer to Celebrate the 300th Anniversary Celebration of the Enthronement of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Vilvoorde, Belgium - As non-stop prayers were in progress yesterday for the auspicious tercentenary of the enthronement of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, police raided the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sahib (Sikh place of worship) in Vilvoorde, stopping prayers and arresting 30 people as part of a city-wide immigration raid. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a compilation of sacred Sikh scriptures and was enthroned by the Tenth Guru as the last and eternal guru of the Sikhs in 1708.

Despite the protest of the gurdwara management that a special 48-hour continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, known as an akhand paath, was taking place and that the granthi (person conducting the prayers) immediately displayed valid immigration papers, police arrested him and stopped the prayers.

“UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh community are appalled by the police's insensitivity in its actions during the raid, as police knew that the gurdwara is a place of worship and should have known about the tercentenary celebrations and the significance of the continuous prayers which cannot be stopped. UNITED SIKHS is writing to the Belgian prime minister, seeking a full investigation of the incident, an apology from Belgian police and changes to the police procedures when handling places of worship of all communities,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Legal Director.

Mejindarpal Kaur contacted, Ines Wouters, a Brussels based lawyer, to investigate the matter further and to ensure that those arrested are being provided legal representation. The akhand paath for the tercentenary celebrations are scheduled to restart today.

Ines Wouters met with the Sikh community at the gurdwara and reported, “The Belgian Sikh community is very shocked and will make an official protest and contemplate legal action against the method used by officials. The same result could have been reached in a different way respecting the feelings and dignity of the Sikh community. A society which does not respect religious belief and sensitivity is losing its fundamental values.”

Commenting on the incident, Kuldip Singh, president of UNITED SIKHS stated, “Belgium has the right to enforce its immigration laws. However, the police actions here were blatantly disrespectful and violated all laws and norms regarding people's right to prayer and worship in peace. There was no need for the police to stop the akhand paath (continuous reading) as valid papers were produced on the spot by the granthi.”

- Click here to view Belgian TV footage in Flemish

- English Translation of Belgian TV footage in Flemish

- Belgian TV footage in French

- English Translation of the Belgian TV footage in French

- For a sample letter to send a letter to your local Belgium embassy regarding this incident, please click here

- Click here to let us know you've sent your letter.

- Additional News Report on the Incident

Resham Singh, President of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sahib, arrived shortly after the arrival of police and protested that the akhand paath must not be stopped. “Our Gurdwara is a place of worship open to all. We do not inquire about the immigration status of the people coming to worship at the Gurdwara. Police should have been more sensitive during the raid; to enter a gurdwara with shoes on and to further stop an akhand paath is a serious violation of the religious rights of the Sikh community,” he said.

Avtaar Singh, President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Amritsar, India, expressed his concern to UNITED SIKHS, stating, “I severely condemn the police action inside the Gurdwara. Sikh sentiments are hurt with the disruption of the akhand paath of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The Belgian Government should seek an explanation and apology from the police department for the action inside the gurdwara. I will write a memorandum to the Indian Prime Minister and the Government of Belgium to investigate the police action in the gurdwara when the 300 years celebrations were going on in Belgium.”

Additionally, Dr Pritpal Singh, Coordinator of the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (AGPC) stated, “On behalf of the 45 member gurdwaras of the AGPC in the USA, I wish to record our protest and condemnation of Belgian police action of stopping Sikh prayers which were being conducted in Belgium to commemorate the tercentenary of the enthronement of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. We will write to the Belgian government for an explanation and also ask the United States State Department to investigate this matter.”

The Honourable Gurbax Singh Malhi, Member of Parliament for Bramalea-Gore- Malton, Canada, also expressed concern stating, “If the reports of the incident are correct, I strongly condemn the police action in the Belgian Gurdwara. The religious ceremony was stopped which could have been avoided. All religions should be respected in Belgium. I will send a letter to Prime Minister of Belgium regarding the police action."

Commenting on the effect this incident has on the Sikh community, Kuljit Singh, General Secretary for the oldest Gurdwara in the western hemisphere, Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London in the United Kingdom stated, “This has been a violation of basic human rights. Belgium as a democratic country should not have allowed this kind of behavior by police. Religious customs should be respected and the police should not have worn their shoes and stopped the prayers.”

“The tercentenary is a very significant celebration for the Sikhs; one of our most precious historical events, and the akhand paath should never have been stopped. The last time that an akhand paath was interrupted was in 1984 when the Golden Temple in Amritsar was stormed by the Indian army. Sikhs are again pained to be reminded of that attack by this unfortunate incident.” He added.

You may read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS’ advocacy for religious rights at http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-24-09-2008-00.htm

Issued by:
Jaspreet Singh
Staff Attorney
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy
+44 7709830442

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