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29 Nov 2023

'Most serious case of attempted murder': Trio sentenced for plot to kill radio host over religious views

10:59 am on 29 November 2023

By Catrin Owen

New Zealand judge, Justice Mark Woolford.

Justice Mark Woolford said the offending bared all the hallmarks of religious fanaticism. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The "charismatic" ringleader who organised a hit on a radio host in the Sikh community, who was then stabbed within an inch of his life, has been sentenced to 13 years and 6 months imprisonment and blames the victim's "controversial views" for the attack.

Harnek Singh​, also known as Nekki, is a well-known figure in the Sikh community and Radio Virsa broadcaster with nearly half a million YouTube subscribers.

But some of the Sikh community disagreed with his more liberal views, and it was with that anger, the Crown said a man, with interim name suppression, plotted and then told others to kill Singh.

The plan almost succeeded, but Harnek miraculously survived the vicious attack.

On December 23, 2020, as Harnek was returning home from broadcasting on Radio Virsa unaware he was being followed, he pulled into his Wattle Downs driveway where three men wearing black, armed with bats and knives attacked him. He was stabbed more than 40 times with medical experts not expecting him to survive.

After a 6-week trial, the man with name suppression was found guilty of Harnek's attempted murder.

On Tuesday, Justice Mark Woolford said this was the most serious case of attempted murder and sentenced him to 13 years and 6 months in jail. He will have to spend at least nine years behind bars.

"It is clear you did not physically participate in the attack, but you hold the lion's share of responsibility ... without your direction, the attack would not have taken place," Justice Woolford said.

Justice Woolford said the offending bared all the hallmarks of religious fanaticism and the defendants' belief for it to be morally and ideologically justified and the violence was for the greater good.

Sukhpreet Singh, 34, was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact. He aided Jaspal Singh and Sarvjeet Sidhu with hiding a ute and giving them fresh clothes after they'd stabbed Harnek.

Sukhpreet was sentenced to six months' of home detention.

Sarvjeet Sidhu, who admitted his part in the attack a week ahead of the trial, was sentenced to 9 years and 6 months imprisonment.

Two other men, Jobanpreet Singh and Hardeep Sandhu, will be sentenced next year for their part in the frenzied attack.

Jaspal Singh, who gave evidence at trial detailing how he was told he was the "chosen one" is already serving a jail term after he pleaded guilty.

Radio host continues to live in fear

Harnek did not come to the sentencing on Tuesday, but prosecutor Leilani Taula read out his victim impact statement.

In the statement, Harnek detailed coming face to face with death the night he was attacked.

Harnek went from being the most independent person to requiring help constantly.

"My safety has become of upmost concern for my family. They fear I will be targeted again for the beliefs I hold, they fear they may be targeted too.

"My wife and child wonder if there's someone lurking in the shadows waiting to attack us again."

Speaking directly to his attackers, Harnek told them they had all failed.

"You wanted to take me away from my family. You tried to silence me. You wanted to send a chilling message to all those with disagreement to your unorthodox religious views...but I will continue to express my beliefs.

"The only chilling message you managed to send is that actions have consequences and in a country like New Zealand...the law doesn't bend for you."

Plan to silence

The man with name suppression recruited the defendants and attempted to recruit another man to carry out the attack on Harnek.

On the day of the attack, Jaspal and Savjeet were given a bag with stolen number plates, knives and bats inside by the man with name suppression. They then met up with Jobanpreet and carried out the attack.

Sarvjeet and Jaspal were injured in the attack and took refuge at Sukhpreet's house, Jaspal said.

Jaspal said they thought they were "doing the greater good" for the Sikh community.

A month after the attack, the man with name suppression then bought Harnek's blood-stained and glass-shattered ute from an online auction.

Justice Woolford said the defendant bought the ute as a trophy and a warning to others.

'Most serious case of attempted murder'

At the sentencing, prosecutor Luke Radich said there was a strong link between the man with name suppression's offending, the way he thinks and his religion.

"He's coming very close to blaming Sikhism for the offending," Radich said.

Radich submitted the defendant had a dangerous combination of entrenched views and had been able to manipulate others.

"If this is not the most serious cases of attempted murder ... I don't know what is," Radich submitted.

The defendant still denies having any part in the planning or the execution of the attack. He blames Harnek's "controversial comments" for the attack.

His lawyer, Dale Dufty said there was no evidence the other defendants were involved or motivated by his client rather than just their own views. Justice Woolford disagreed.

Dufty submitted his client had spent a lifetime devoted to his religion, has led charitable endeavours over the years and people speak highly of him.

"He is deserving of some credit for his good character."

Dufty also sought credit for his client who had been exposed to what the Crown had said "extreme views".

"It's clear what influenced this offending was his views on cultural practice and Sikhism. Those views were formed growing up...the court can't ignore that those things have influenced the way he's acted."

The court heard the defendant was born in Calcutta, but had to move from New Delhi to Punjab at the age of 10 after he was made homeless after attacks on Sikh's.

He began volunteering at temples from the age of 15.

He moved to New Zealand in 2002 with his wife.

Justice Woolford disagreed with Dufty and did not give discounts to the defendant for his previous good character and upbringing. But took six months off the starting sentence to reflect the time the man had spent on electronically-monitored bail.

The judge also declined to give good character discount to the other defendants. Sarvjeet was given time of his sentence for his guilty plea, some background factors and time spent on bail.

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