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by Kirsteen Paterson
23 August 2022
Jagtar Singh Johal: UK Government under pressure over India 'collusion' claims

Jagtar Singh Johal. Credit: Johal family

Jagtar Singh Johal: UK Government under pressure over India 'collusion' claims

The UK Government is under growing pressure over allegations of involvement in the abduction of a Scottish man said to have been tortured in India.

Sikh blogger Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, was bundled into an unmarked van by plain clothes officers shortly after his Indian wedding in November 2017.

Accused of helping to fund an assassination plot against right-wing Hindu figures, something denied by him and his family, he claims he was subjected to torture in custody and remains in detention, pending trial, more than four years later.

In a letter sent to Keir Starmer in June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said for the first time that Johal has been arbitrarily detained, following earlier statements by MPs, a UN panel and human rights charity Reprieve.

Now that charity has produced evidence it claims shows that Johal, who faces a possible death penalty, was arrested following a tip-off from UK intelligence services.

It says it has matched details of his case to a mistreatment claim in a report by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office which states that "MI5 passed intelligence to a liaison partner via the Secret Intelligence Service", or MI6. It goes on: "The subject of the intelligence was arrested by the liaison partner in their country. The individual told the British Consular Official that he had been tortured."

Johal, who blogged on the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984 and is said to have been subjected to electrocution and other torture, is not named in the report. However, a 2017 report by the Hindustan Times says he came "under the scanner" after a "source in the UK" gave Punjab police "vague information" about a man named "Johal".

The Indian government denies any ill-treatment and has said authorities have the evidence needed to convict the Scot, who is known to supporters as Jaggi.

He has now lodged a claim in the High Court against the Foreign Office, Home Office and Attorney General alleging that UK intelligence bodies shared information with India unlawfully when there was a risk he could be tortured.

Johal's brother Gurpreet, a Labour councillor for West Dunbartonshire, has said that "if this can happen to my brother, it could happen to any Brit travelling overseas", telling the BBC: "How do I tell my kids that are nine and 11 years old that the UK Government are failing their uncle? 

"My brother is innocent and if the Indian government had the alleged evidence against him he would have been charged, tried and convicted, which results in the death penalty. It's taken them almost five years to bring charges. Our family are scared now that Jagtar might be falsely convicted and hang."

The UK Government has declined to comment on an ongoing legal case.

But politicians from across the party spectrum have raised serious concerns about the matter. Martin Docherty-Hughes, the family's SNP MP, said: "This is a truly astonishing and unanticipated development in Jagtar’s case which raises massive questions not only for his family in Dumbarton, and for the millions of UK citizens who travel to India regularly, but also for those who study UK Foreign Policy in practice.

 "If proven, these allegations risk destroying whatever confidence Britain’s Sikh, and other minority populations, had in the security services, and by extension calls into question what value the UK Government saw in this shadowy transaction.

 "As Jagtar’s constituency MP, I want to know which UK Government ministers were in the chain which ultimately led to this intelligence being shared; what they knew about the risks of torture should Jagtar be detained by the Indian police and ultimately what the conceivable interest to UK citizens could have been from offering one of our own up in this fashion.

"I’m sure now we are going to begin a long quest for justice for Jagtar and his family, who have been robbed of almost five years of their life with their husband, son and brother: the UK Government can begin the process of making good on this by making sure he is released and brought home to Dumbarton, as a matter of urgency."

Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: "No one – especially not a British citizen – should ever face torture or execution as a result of information shared by the UK’s intelligence services.

"Government ministers must urgently explain whether they authorised this intelligence-sharing and if so why. This is sadly not the first case like this we have seen, but it must be the last.

"The UK has been a force for good in the world, working to end the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. We must not let this Government backslide on that commitment."

Conservative MP Steve Baker said: "This appalling case, where UK intelligence sharing has been linked to brutal torture, illustrates vividly why the National Security Bill needs to be improved."

Meanwhile, Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill said: "The revelation that it was information passed from Britain to India that led to Johal’s arrest is concerning. Boris Johnson was foreign secretary at the time. The sign-off on the transfer of such information could only have been given by him."

She went on: "A British national's human rights should be safeguarded by [their] own government. Clearly, the Sikh comunity will be very concerned that its own government clearly turned against one of their own. This has huge implications."

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