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'Red line should never be crossed': US Ambassador Garcetti on Pannun case

NEW DELHI: US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti has said that India and the United States are working together in the investigation of the alleged failed assassination plot against Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannu.

In an interview to ANI, Garcetti emphasized that a 'red line' should not be crossed and no country and no government employee of any country can be involved in an assassination attempt of a foreign citizen.

"I think that's absolutely critical. For any of us, just abstractly, that has to be a red line. No government or government employee can be involved in the alleged assassination of one of your own citizens. That's just an unacceptable red line," Garcetti said.

"Any country, having an active member of their government involved in a second country trying to assassinate one of their citizens. That's, I think, usually a red line for any country. That's a basic issue of sovereignty. That's a basic issue of rights," he added.

Referring to the repeated threats issued by Pannun against India, the US ambassador said the USA protects free speech 'for better and for worse,' and added that a citizen of the USA can be convicted or deported only according to the country's law.

He further said that once authority starts arresting people for their speech, it becomes a "slippery slope".

"They (people) can say, why don't you just arrest people for what they say? We don't have that system. I, as ambassador, can't change that rule. Even while it hurts us sometimes, things that are just about America, not even talking about India at all, what people say. As a Jew, I had people who stood on a freeway overpass in my city condemning Jews. And they're not arrested. If they threaten violence, they can be. But it's also a slippery slope. Once you start arresting for what people say, that can go really extreme. And so it's the American philosophy not to," Garcetti added.

"When people do step over the line saying something will be bombed as opposed to saying somebody shouldn't fly. The United States freedom of speech, we want success for anybody if there's a criminal accusation to actually reach the threshold that would have a successful outcome."

"Under our law, for an American citizen to be convicted in an American court or to be deported to have a criminal case in another country, it has to meet our law, and so we'll continue working. And if anybody ever says something that steps over that line, and I know it's gotten very close, we will be working together on that," he added.

Further referring to the ongoing probe, New Delhi and Washington are working together to hold those behind the criminal action, shows how strong and close the India-US relationship is.

The US envoy also appreciated India for setting up an inquiry commission to look into the matter.

"I was very pleased that India put together this commission of inquiry, put senior people who are experienced in law enforcement on that, and that they have been digging in on this side domestically to uncover any evidence that would show a murder for hire plot that included anybody who was from the Indian government," he said.


"I think, strongly, but so far, everything that's been asked of the Indian government has been done. And I would say vice versa. Whenever there are accusations the other direction, we take that incredibly seriously," Garcetti added.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is an India-designated terrorist who holds American and Canadian citizenship. He has repeatedly issued threats against India.

Last year, Pannun issued a threat claiming that Air India would not be allowed to operate on November 19. Following this, he also threatened to attack the Indian Parliament on the anniversary of the Parliament attack on December 13.

As per the US Justice Department indictment, an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, who is currently in custody, has been charged with the murder-for-hire of Pannun. The US Justice Department had claimed that an Indian government employee, who was not identified in the indictment filed, had recruited Gupta to hire a hitman to allegedly assassinate Pannun, which was foiled by US authorities.