• Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Jagtar Johal: UK government ‘more talk, no action’, says brother of Briton detained in India

Johal’s elder brother Gurpreet, a solicitor and Labour councillor on West Dunbartonshire council, has been campaigning relentlessly over the former’s release.

(L-R) 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) and British prime minister Rishi Sunak (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

WHILE prime minister Rishi Sunak has told the British parliament about his talks with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi about Briton Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been jailed in the south Asian nation for six years now on charges of terrorism and could face death penalty if convicted, many including Johal’s brother are yet to be convinced.

Johal’s elder brother Gurpreet, a solicitor and Labour councillor on West Dunbartonshire council who has been campaigning relentlessly over the former’s release, told The Guardian that the UK government was “more talk” and “no action” over the case.

“I fear that this is just more talk from the UK government and no action,” he was quoted as saying.

The 36-year-old Johal was in the northern Indian state of Punjab in 2017 to attend a wedding when he was arrested and taken in an unmarked car, his family said.

He has alleged of torture, including electric shocks, and being forced to make confession since his detention. The first stages of his trial have just started following repeated delays over evidence. Johal has denied the charges of terrorism against him.

More than 70 British parliamentarians had asked Sunak ahead of the summit in India to request the host nation for Johal’s release and according to Gurpeet, the premier had no other option after facing a strong demand from the MPs.

He said while he was happy that Sunak had raised his brother’s case, he thought it was not enough unless the prime minister called for Johal’s release, in line with findings of the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention that acknowledged the Briton’s detention was a violation of human rights law, The Guardian added. He said his brother should be released immediately.

London had previously refused to call for Johal’s immediate release, saying it would not be in his best interests as it would be projected as judicial interference.

Little convinced by the government’s move, Gurpreet said the campaign to get Johal released will go on till he returns home in Scotland.

He also said that London was reluctant to take a stronger stance on the Johal case since it is desperate to secure a free trade deal with New Delhi. The UK has not been able to achieve the deal, an agreement that was one of the big promises of Brexit, even after negotiations for over a year.

“It is categorically clear why they’re trying to do everything to appease the Indians, but the fact remains that the UK pride themselves on standing up for human rights, then they have to do so here,” Gurpreet was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Reprieve, a legal NGO representing Johal, said past prime ministers of Britain had also raised Johal’s case but he continued to languish in prison.

Maya Foa, Reprieve’s joint executive director, told the news outlet that the government often says that ministers have raised the matter several times “as if that makes their failure to seek the release of an arbitrarily detained British national any less shameful”.

Last year, former prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that authorities in India had arbitrarily detained Johal and that the British government had consistently raised concerns about his treatment and right to get a fair trial.

“It’s categorically clear, if I don’t put pressure, with the community and the support that we do have, then the UK government would have sat idle and they will let this drag on for as long as they can. I’ve just got to keep fighting because if I don’t do it, nobody else is going to do it,” Gurpreet told The Guardian.

A spokesperson of the UK government said London is committed to seeing 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,” the official said.

Parliamentarians question Sunak

Sunak was also facing the heat in the parliament over the matter.

His fellow Conservative Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the parliamentarians were not clear about the outcomes of the discussions between the two prime ministers over Johal, Evening Standard reported.

“Will the Government now finally officially call for him to be released because the UN has accepted he is arbitrarily detained and does the prime minister believe that he has been unfairly treated or even tortured whilst he’s been held?” she asked, according to the Standard.

Former minister and Labour leader Sir Chris Bryant told the Standard, “Surely one of the things that should keep the prime minister awake at night is whenever a British national is arbitrarily detained in a foreign country.

“You would hope that ministers, and the prime minister himself, would summon up every ounce of energy to try and get people released.

“I’m sorry but I think quite a lot of us are very depressed by the prime minister’s own answer to (Ms Kearns) earlier about Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been arbitrarily detained now for six years.

“I took the prime minister to say that he has not called for his release. Is that really the truth?” he asked.

Sunak said, “We’ve consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case with the Government of India, including allegations of mistreatment and the right to a fair trial.”

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