FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Nicola Sturgeon plea to Raab over Scot held in India

jagtar singh johal
Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, is being held under India’s anti-terror law

By Democrat reporter

BBC Scotland is reporting that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to meet the family of a man held in prison in India for four years.

Jagtar Singh Johal, from Oxhill in Dumbarton, is being held under India’s anti-terror laws, accused of conspiring to murder a number of right-wing Hindu leaders.

Mr Johal has previously said via his lawyer he had been “falsely implicated” and tortured into making a confession.

Ms Sturgeon said she was concerned about his detention without trial.

In her letter, she also said she was “deeply concerned” about allegations of torture and mistreatment of Mr Johal while in custody.

Mr Johal travelled to India from Scotland in October 2017 for his wedding.

Videos of the occasion show the new groom jumping enthusiastically to Bhangra music as he celebrated.

Jagtar got married in India in 2017
Jagtar got married in India in 2017

But a fortnight later, while on a shopping trip with his new bride in the North Indian state of Punjab, Mr Johal was taken away by police and has been in detention ever since.

His brother Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, says Mr Johal was a peaceful activist and is convinced he was arrested because he had written about historical human rights violations against Sikhs in India.

Gurpreet Singh Johal met Ms Sturgeon last week to ask for her support.

The first minister’s letter to Mr Raab said Gurpreet was disappointed with the support from the Foreign Office and that he could not get a meeting with the foreign secretary.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has raised the case with his Indian counterpart
Former UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has raised the case with his Indian counterpart.

Ms Sturgeon asked Mr Raab to “personally” meet the family of Mr Johal to hear their concerns and provide assurances of adequate assistance.

She also asked him to raise the allegations of torture and the importance of a fair trial with the Indian authorities.

Gurpreet Singh Johal said he last spoke to his brother, who is being held in Delhi’s maximum security Tihar jail, about three weeks ago.

He said Mr Johal was in “good spirits” but was concerned at the delays to his case.

Gurpreet Johal with Nicola Sturgeon
Gurpreet Singh Johal, brother of the detained man, met Nicola Sturgeon last week

Gurpreet Johal said he was grateful to finally meet Ms Sturgeon after his brother had been detained for almost four years.

Of the UK government, he said: “It is disappointing that a British national is being detained in an Indian jail for 1,380 days and they have still not called for his release.”

Charge-sheets from the Indian authorities outline the case against Mr Johal and a group of men whom they believe were involved in a “series of killings” of right wing Hindu leaders.

It is claimed Mr Johal was a member of Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF), described in the documents as an international “terrorist gang”.

He is accused of paying £3,000 to the former head of the KLF to help fund the crimes. The documents claim he “actively participated and had complete knowledge of the conspiracy”.

“There are very serious charges against him including murder and abetment of terrorism,” an Indian government official told the BBC.

“The seriousness of charges against him have been shared with the British authorities,” they added.

Mr Johal has been represented by the human rights organisation Reprieve since last year.

Protest outside Foreign Office
Hundreds of people have protested outside the Foreign Office.

Its Deputy Director Harriet McCulloch told the BBC he had ben “failed” by the UK government.

She said: “He’s arbitrarily detained and he’s facing the death penalty in relation to charges that have been brought on the basis of a torture confession.

“The UK government has a stated domestic policy of calling for the release of people like Jagtar who are being arbitrarily detained or held on no legal basis so it’s the UK government’s obligation to call for his release.”

“The UK [government] has so far failed to get any results for Jagtar and his family.”

Ms McCulloch also criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for not raising Mr Johal’s case at a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case with the government of India, including his allegations of torture and mistreatment and his right to a fair trial.

“In-person consular visits in India are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, consular staff have regular telephone calls with Mr Johal in lieu of visits.”

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