PROTEST: Family of Jagtar Singh Johal hold Downing Street demonstration

Jagtar Singh Johal’s campaigners deliver their message to free him to 10 Downing Street.

By Bill Heaney

THE family of a Dumbarton man who was allegedly abducted and tortured in India held a demonstration outside 10 Downing Street on Thursday to mark five years since he was unlawfully detained in the country.

Jagtar Singh Johal – known as Jaggi – was in Punjab in Northern India in 2017 when his family say he was arrested and bundled into an unmarked car. He says he was then tortured for days, including with electrocution, and has remained in detention since then.

In May, he was formally charged with conspiracy to commit murder and being a member of a terrorist gang and now faces the death penalty.

The charges rely on his forced confession under torture and are not supported by credible evidence, say human rights groups Reprieve and REDRESS.

Johal was an active blogger and campaigner for Sikh human rights, which is said to be the reason he was brought to the attention of the Indian authorities.

The demonstration was attended by hundreds of people from all over the UK including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained in Iran for six years after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Speakers included Jaggi’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal, a Labour councillor in Dumbarton, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe, and Reprieve’s director of advocacy Dan Dolan.

At the event, Gurpreet said the UK Government had “wronged” his brother.

He said: “The British government have wronged Jagtar and many other British citizens detained abroad. We cannot let this keep happening.

“A British national, born and bred in the UK, in detention in an Indian prison for five years without conviction. This is the state of affairs with the UK Government, and they may have even had a hand in his abduction and torture.

“Thank you for being here. You are all helping to make sure the British government, that have let us down for the last five years, do not keep doing this, and you all show Jaggi that he is not alone.”  

In August, human rights group Reprieve accused British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 of providing a tip-off that ultimately led to the arrest of Johal, whose parents live in Oxhill Road in the West End.

Reprieve showed documentation to the BBC which says there is strong evidence Johal’s arrest came from a tip-off from British intelligence.

That month, Gurpreet also criticised the former prime minister and then foreign secretary Liz Truss, pictured left, for failing to declare Jagtar as arbitrarily detained or call for his release after meeting with the family.

 In a letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer, Boris Johnson stated for the first time in June that the Indian government is arbitrarily detaining Johal in a letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Following Johal’s detention, it is said he was given electric shocks, his limbs were forced into painful positions, he suffered sleep deprivation and death threats, including threats of being burned alive, and he was forced to sign blank sheets of paper.

Despite the seriousness of the allegations and repeated requests from his lawyers, India has never provided him with an independent medical examination and has taken no steps to investigate the serious allegations of torture, as far as REDRESS and Reprieve are aware.

Ratcliffe said at the protest: “Nazanin is thankfully now back in the UK and here today. Part of the reason for us being here is as a visible source of hope. It is tough, it is brutal, there are scars, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“The power of solidarity should not be understated. I remember standing just here singing carols last Christmas with Gurpreet and many others. Just knowing as a family that you’re not alone, that there are lots of ordinary people up and down the country who care, who see the injustice and stand together makes all the difference.

The parents of Jagtar Singh Johal – known as Jaggi – and his brother, Councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal, campaigning for his release.

“This is a systemic problem. There are approximately 100 British citizens being tortured abroad each year. How many have you heard of?

“The government took a long time to work on our case, it’s taking a very long time in Jaggi’s case, and it’s only by making noise that you get protection for British citizens.”

An Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with the Government of India, including his allegations of torture and his right to a fair trial and we are committed to doing what we can to assist him.

“The Foreign Secretary visited India and raised his case with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar on October 29.

“The UK strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle and we will continue to make this clear to the Government of India.”

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