Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon (Photo by Robert Perry – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
SCOTLAND first minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked foreign secretary Dominic Raab to meet the family of Jagtar Singh Johal, a Scottish Sikh man from Dumbarton who is being held under anti-terror laws in India and imprisoned there for almost four years.
Johal, who was held in the northern Indian state of Punjab in November 2017 after he went there for his marriage, is accused of conspiring to kill a number of Hindu right-wing leaders. The 33-year-old, however, denies the charges saying he has been “falsely implicated” and was tortured to make confession.
Sturgeon wrote to Raab expressing her deep concerns about the allegations of torture and mistreatment of Johal in custody. She was also worried over Johal’s alleged detention without trial.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader’s letter adds more pressure on the UK government in relation to the case. In February, nearly 140 parliamentarians, including former Brexit secretary David Davis, SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford and former international development secretary Hilary Benn wrote to the foreign secretary asking him to seek Johal’s release.
The Sikh is also supported by legal NGO Reprieve, whose deputy director Harriet McCulloch called Johal’s situation “as clear a case of arbitrary detention as we’ve come across”, the Guardian reported. She said despite Johal making numerous court appearances, his trial has been repeatedly delayed at the request of the prosecution and basic information was denied to his defence counsel.
Authorities in India have denied the allegations saying “there is no evidence of mistreatment or torture as alleged”, BBC reported.
McCulloch said Johal, who is a human rights activist, was violently arrested in the Indian state of Punjab in October 2017 and subsequently, he was tortured with electricity into making the confession about his involvement in an alleged terrorist conspiracy.
Johal has also been accused of giving £3,000 to a Sikh who was allegedly planning to murder members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist outfit which has close links with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party of prime minister Narendra Modi. He denies the charge.
Johal visited India in October 2017 for his wedding. But the joy was short-lived as police took away the man in early November when he went on a shopping trip with his new bride in Punjab. He has remained in detention since then.
Johal’s brother Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, says the former was a peaceful activist and strongly feels that he was arrested because he had penned about human rights violations against Sikhs in India. Gurpreet met Sturgeon earlier this month and sought her support to get his brother released.
Johal family not happy with UK government role: Sturgeon
Sturgeon wrote in her letter to Raab that Gurpreet was disappointed with the support the family received from the foreign office and that he did not get to meet the foreign secretary. The first minister also requested Raab to personally meet Johal’s family.
“Gurpreet expressed his disappointment with the support his brother and their family have received from the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office]. He also questioned why the British prime minister did not raise Jagtar’s (Johal) case with the Indian prime minister in April this year,” Sturgeon wrote.
She asked Raab to raise the allegations of torture against Johal and the importance of a fair trial with the Indian authorities.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has endeavoured to better economic ties with India as part of the UK government’s wider foreign policy strategy post Brexit by holding online meetings with Modi and during the G7 summit in Cornwall over the past few months.
Speaking to the Guardian, Gurpreet said, “I am very grateful for the Scottish government’s support, but my brother really needs the Westminster government to seek his release and bring him home.”