Jagtar Singh Johal’s family appeal to Lord Cameron for his release

Jagtar Singh Johal
Jagtar Singh Johal, from Oxhill in Dumbarton, faces eight charges of conspiracy to murder and could receive the death penalty.

By Bill Heaney

The family of a Scottish man detained in India for six years has said his life depends on the new foreign secretary’s intervention.

Jagtar Singh Johal, a 36-year-old Sikh activist, faces terror charges in connection with political violence in the north of the country.

His brother has now written to David Cameron and asked him to meet the family and call for Mr Johal’s release.

The UK government said it was committed to seeing the case resolved.

Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, was arrested in India in November 2017, weeks after his wedding there.

A cross-party group of MPs has said that having arrested him, “interrogators electrocuted him, and threatened to douse him in petrol and set him alight”.

They also said that to make the torture stop “Jagtar recorded video statements and signed blank pieces of paper”.

These allegations have been denied by the Indian authorities.

He is currently facing eight charges of conspiracy to murder, linked to political violence in India.

David Cameron is the sixth foreign secretary to be in post since his arrest.

Gurpreet Singh Johal, right,  says David Cameron ” must do better” than previous foreign secretaries

Speaking to BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme, his brother West Dunbartonshire Labour councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal said: “From day one it’s been difficult.

“It’s 2,208 days since my brother has been arbitrarily detained in an Indian jail and this government has failed.”

He said he last spoke to his brother from prison on 18 October – his 6th wedding anniversary – when he seemed to be trying to “put light at the end of the tunnel”.

Mr Johal added: “He was as well as he can be. He’s hopeful that in the next six months or so he can at least be out on bail, but that’s as much as I know.

“The bottom line is my brother’s life depends on what David Cameron decides to do and whether he decides to call for Jagtar’s release to bring him back home.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India.
Rishi Sunak met Indian PM Narendra Modi but did not call for Mr Johal’s release.

While the previous foreign secretary James Cleverly met the family and spoke to India about his detainment, he did not call for his release.

In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to commit to raising the case with Indian PM Narendra Modi while in Delhi for the G20 Summit.

At the time a Foreign Office minister said they did not believe it would be in his best interest and the intervention could be “considered interference in the Indian judicial process while Mr Johal’s trial was underway, which could jeopardise our ability to offer consular assistance in Mr Johal’s case”.

‘Exhausting’ fight

In his letter to Lord Cameron, Gurpreet Singh Johal, who is a lawyer and Labour councillor, wrote: “It is extremely distressing to build up to meeting face to face with the foreign secretary, only for them to move on to a new job a few months later.

“Each time a new foreign secretary has been appointed, I have had to start all over again. It is exhausting, but I will keep fighting to bring my brother home.”

He ended the letter by saying he believed Lord Cameron, who was prime minister from 2010 to 2016, would be able to “leverage the strength of Britain’s longstanding relationship with India” and his “personal relationship with its leaders” to seek Jagtar’s release.

Mr Johal’s trial for the eight most serious cases against him started in 2022 but he still has not been convicted of any crime.

In May last year a UN panel of human rights experts found his detention was arbitrary – in other words lacked legal basis – and he should be released.

The Indian authorities have always maintained that due process was being followed in the case.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “The UK government is committed to seeing Jagtar Singh Johal’s case resolved as soon as possible.

“We continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Johal and his family and have consistently raised his case directly with the government of India.”

Top picture: Gurpreet Singh Johal with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and West Dumbarton councillor David McBride.

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