Sikhs Say Facebook Truckled to India

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Facebook blocked access to a Sikh social media page in India for its outspoken campaign against persecution of religious minorities, Sikhs for Justice claims in Federal Court.
     New York-based Sikhs for Justice has demanded an independent Sikh country in India’s Punjab.
     A spokesman for the group told Courthouse News he believes Facebook shut down the site at the request of the Indian government.
     In its June 2 lawsuit, the group says Facebook is retaliating for the movement’s growing support.
     The Punjab region of northern India has been a wealthy and restive region for centuries, with a welter of ethnic groups, languages and religions.
     “Sikhs’ movement and demand for independence referendum is gaining momentum and popularity among Sikhs living in Punjab and across the world, attempts are being made to muzzle the voice of Sikhs through acts such as blocking the Facebook page,” Sikhs for Justice says in its complaint.
     The group says it learned in May that its Facebook page had been blocked in India. It says its legal adviser Gurpatwant Singh Pannun received no meaningful answer from Facebook after he sent an email asking why it was blocked, and demanding that access be restored.
     In an interview, Pannun called Facebook’s response “ridiculous.”
     He said a reply email from Facebook appears to be nothing more than an automatic response that does not address the substance of Pannun’s questions.
     Pannun said the group is “pretty sure” that Facebook blocked its page at the request of the Indian government.
     “Our Facebook page is not blocked otherwise and only Facebook has the capability to block access to the page in a certain geographical area,” Pannun said.
     “If our campaigns were violent or violating any other law, then Facebook would have brought our page down even in the United States.”
     Sikhs for Justice has filed numerous lawsuits in recent years against prominent Indians, accusing them of shielding human rights violators in their political parties, including Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Indian National Congress party.
     The organization sued Secretary of State John Kerry in January this year, asking him to declare the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh a terrorist organization for its efforts to forcibly convert all Indians to Hinduism.
     Pannun said on Wednesday that Sikhs for Justice campaigned mightily against the forced conversions.
     “It’s a big issue in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes from a background of Hindu supremacist and nationalist parties. They believe in homogeneous Hindu identity, that everyone living in India cannot be anything but Hindu. They have been very vocal and expressive about it and now they are taking action in that regard,” Pannun said.
     He continued: “In December 2014 they launched a campaign called homecoming and under that campaign they are forcing Christian, Sikh and Muslim communities to convert back to Hinduism. They claim that back in time all these people originally were Hindus and they are trying to bring them back into the fold and they doing it forcibly. Our campaign was so vocal that President Obama took up the issue.”
     In its June 2 lawsuit, the group says Facebook’s retaliatory move was the result of the success of that campaign.
     Facebook told Courthouse News in an email: “This lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”
     Sikhs for Justice demands a permanent injunction ordering Facebook to stop blocking its page, and seeks any documents or correspondence with the Indian government related to a request that Facebook block access to its page.
     It is represented by Babak Pourtavoosi with the Pannun Law Firm of Jackson Heights, N.Y.

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