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India urged to 'speed up' over detained Jagtar Singh Johal case

Jagtar Singh Johal
Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, faces eight charges of conspiracy to murder

The foreign secretary has urged the Indian government to "speed up" the case of a Scottish man detained in India for more than six years.

Jagtar Singh Johal, a 37-year-old Sikh activist, faces terror charges in connection with political violence in the north of the country.

Mr Johal's brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal, met with Lord Cameron on Monday.

However, he said he "expected more" from the encounter with the former prime minister.

"The UK government could bring my brother home tomorrow if they really wanted to," he added.

"I said to David Cameron that my brother's life is in your hands, because the foreign secretary makes the decision, it's you that can call and bring my brother back home."

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

Mr Johal's family said his life depended on the foreign secretary's intervention.

Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, was arrested in India in November 2017, just 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
Lord Cameron said he would re-examine the case of Jagtar Singh Johal

Lord Cameron is the sixth foreign secretary to be in post since Mr Johal's arrest.

"I take incredibly seriously any case of a British citizen imprisoned in another country," he said.

"As foreign secretary, I've looked at the case, I've examined all the paperwork, I wanted to meet with the family and hear what they think.

"I want to really stress that as an incoming foreign secretary, you don't just accept what the government has said up to now, you really look at it, you really ask the questions."

The previous foreign secretary, James Cleverly, met the family and spoke to India about Mr Johal's detainment.

However, he did not call for his release.

"That the Indian government has got to speed up this case," Lord Cameron added.

"We also want to keep the consular access that we've had.

"What I've said to the family, is that I'm going to go back to my office, I'm going to look at the paperwork all over again, I'm going to take into account what they've said and see whether there's a different approach we should be taking.

"I've made absolutely no promises that it will be different, but I take these cases very seriously and I will re-examine everything and make sure that we are doing the right thing."

Definitive answer

Jagtar Singh Johal's brother Gurpreet Singh Johal, who is a lawyer and Labour councillor, thanked Lord Cameron for meeting him but he had "no good answers to my questions".

"I expected more," he said. "I expected answers from the UK government as to why they've not called for Jagtar's release - he didn't do that.

"He promised to come back to me with a proper definitive answer soon - and I'm going to hold him to that."

Mr Johal said not being able to speak to his brother was heart-breaking for the entire family.

It was his 37th birthday on Friday and his family were unable to reach him in prison for a scheduled phone call.

"No-one is suggesting [Lord Cameron] should browbeat India," said Mr Johal. "He just needs to work constructively with their government to negotiate my brother's return.

"The reality is that 'consular access' means one visit every six weeks, and a note to the family about whether Jagtar gets video calls or has a TV in his cell.

"It's pathetic that this is the extent of the UK government's concerns when a British national is arbitrarily detained for six years and counting, on the basis of a torture confession."

He said the foreign secretary had committed to scheduling a follow-up meeting.

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 2022, a UN panel of human rights experts found his detention was arbitrary - in other words lacked legal basis - and he should be released.

The High Commission of India in London insist "due process" under Indian law is being followed in the case.

A spokesperson said: "Mr Johal is facing criminal trials in no less than eight cases of hate crimes with charges relating to extremely serious offences including terror crimes, conspiracy to murder, and merciless assassinations of people belongings to different faiths.

"He has been charged under appropriate provisions under the Indian laws after extensive investigations by national agencies.

"Due process is being followed under Indian laws, to which he will be subjected as the crimes for which he is charged have been committed in India.

"As his cases are before courts in India, it is for the courts to decide the next steps in his case, not the government of either country."