Three Khalistan supporters have been sentenced for the attempted murder of popular Auckland-based radio host Harnek Singh, who has been vocal against the ideology of Khalistan, The Australia Today reported.
Sarvjeet Sidhu, aged 27, pleaded guilty to attempted murder, while Sukhpreet Singh, aged 44, was found guilty of being an accessory. The third individual, a 48-year-old Auckland resident with interim name suppression, planned the attack, harbouring resentment against Harnek Singh for his vocal opposition to Khalistan, The Australia Today reported, citing NZ Herald.
During the hearing, Judge Mark Woolford emphasised the need for community protection and a strong deterrence against religious fanaticism.
The attack occurred on December 23, 2020, when Harnek Singh was ambushed by a group of religious fundamentalists in his driveway. He suffered over 40 stab wounds and required more than 350 stitches and multiple surgeries to recover.
Judge Woolford remarked, "It bears all the hallmarks of religious fanaticism. ... Sentencing in this context requires a different approach. The emphasis must be placed on protecting the community from further violence and it is essential to send a strong message of deterrence to others."
Harnek Singh, also known as Nekki, had been followed by three cars full of men before the attackers stabbed him "within an inch of his life." He managed to lock the door of his vehicle and attract neighbours' attention by sounding the horn, preventing potential bleeding to death from the extensive stab wounds, according to The Australia Today.
Earlier, Avtar Singh, a former bodybuilder, told the court he used to be friends with the man with name suppression, however, he soon stopped associating with the man whom he labelled a "thug" and "mafia" in 2018. "He has a way around people, especially broken people," Singh said.
Avtar's friend Baljinder told the court he'd been asked to kill Harnek, but declined. He added that on December 23, Jaspal Singh rang him, "Job is done, he's no longer going to be on the radio."
According to the report, there is a 48-year-old defendant (with interim name suppression) who was not present at the time of the attack. This man, the court was told, harboured a years-long resentment against Hranek Singh as the popular Kiwi radio host was vocal against the Khalistan.
"Harnek Singh told the courtroom that his opinions regarding Sikhism probably fall more along the liberal end of the spectrum while the majority of his critics were more on the fundamentalist or conservative side," as reported by The Australia Today.
In a victim impact statement read aloud by prosecutors, Harnek Singh described the ongoing fear his family faces, "My family faces fear each day when the sun goes down." He expressed gratitude to the New Zealand justice system for ensuring that "no one is above the law, not even religion."
Harnek Singh addressed the defendants directly, stating, "You came to kill me. You tried to silence me. You wanted to send a chilling message to all those who express their disagreement with your unorthodox religious views. But you failed."
He continued, "I will continue to express my opinions and beliefs as I always have. The only chilling message you have managed to send is to people with the same views and opinion as yours that actions have consequences and that in a country like New Zealand, the law does not bend for you if your wrongful acts are in the name of God."
Harnek Singh's words resonated with the judge and he repeated them as he sentenced the defendant, The Australia Today reported, citing NZ Herald.
The 48-year-old mastermind behind the attack received a sentence of 13-and-a-half years, with a minimum period of imprisonment of nine years before parole eligibility. Sarvjeet Sidhu was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years' imprisonment, while Sukhpreet Singh received six months of home detention.
Notably, two men, Jagraj Singh and Gurbinder Singh, were acquitted due to insufficient evidence, while two others, Jobanpreet Singh and Hardeep Singh Sandhu, await sentencing early next year for their involvement in the attempted murder of Harnek Singh. (ANI)