• Saturday, June 03, 2023


UN panel says British Sikh man’s detention in India ‘arbitrary’

This photo taken on November 24, 2017 shows British Sikh man Jagtar Singh Johal (C) being escorted to a court in Ludhiana in India’s northern Punjab state. (Photo by SHAMMI MEHRA/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

A UNITED NATIONS working group’s ruling on the “arbitrary detention” of a British Sikh man in India is expected to mount pressure on the UK government to do more to secure his release.

Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton in Scotland, was arrested by plain-clothes officers in the north Indian state of Punjab in November 2017 while he was shopping with his wife. He is accused of funding the purchase of weapons used to assassinate right-wing Hindu religious and political leaders, an allegation his family has rejected.

Since his arrest in Jalandhar, nine cases have been registered against Johal who has now been languishing in a Delhi prison without being tried. He said he was tortured and coerced into signing confessional statements.

A UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the Indian government to release him immediately without setting any conditions and “accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations” under international laws.

The panel of UN investigators found that his detention and arrest did not conform to international human rights standards and that his right to a fair trial was “violated”.

“Johal was targeted because of his activities as a Sikh practitioner and supporter and because of his activism writing public posts calling for accountability for alleged actions committed against Sikhs by the authorities”, the group said.

“He was deprived of his liberty on discriminatory grounds, owing to his status as a human rights defender and based on his political activism, religious faith and opinions”.

However, the findings contradict India’s stand that there is “sufficient prosecutable evidence” against him and his rights are “duly honoured”.

Johal’s brother Gurpreet Singh, a Dunbarton councillor in Dunbarton, who has been running a campaign seeking his release, quoted a Downing Street spokesperson as saying that British prime minister Boris Johnson raised Joha’s case with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during his India visit last month.

According to the spokesperson, the UK government is committed to making representations until the concerns are addressed.

Referring to Johal’s continued detention, Gurpreet Singh said in a tweet, “Today, Monday 09 May 2022 marks: 1648 days of wrongful imprisonment, 1648 days of torture & abuse, 1648 days of human rights breach, 1648 days of injustice, 1648 days of arbitrary detention”.

The councillor has been daily updating the number of days since his arrest more than four years ago.

“We’ve known from the start that there’s no good reason for Jagtar’s imprisonment and in four years the Indian authorities haven’t produced any evidence against him. The UK government hasn’t listened to us, but perhaps it will listen to the UN and call for his release… We’re dreaming of the moment my brother steps off a plane in Scotland to be reunited with his family,” he told The Guardian.

Eastern Eye

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