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Held for Almost 5 Years, Jagtar Singh's 'Arbitrary' Detention Acknowledged by UK PM Johnson

A citizen of the UK, Jagtar Singh Johal was arrested in Punjab in 2017 on terror charges and has remained in prison in India for 4.5 years without his case being heard.
Jagtar Singh Johal. Photo: Redress.org.

New Delhi: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly acknowledged the “arbitrary detention” of Scotland-based Sikh activist Jagtar Singh Johal by the Indian government for the first time.

Johal has been in a Punjab prison since November 2017, when he was arrested for allegedly being involved in two killings in the state by the banned Khalistani Liberation Force (KLF) that year. He is currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

According to a report by the Guardian, Johnson, in a letter to the leader of the Labour Party, Kier Starmer, said that Johal has been arbitrarily detained by the Indian government without any formal charges being levied against him.

The revelation came to light on Thursday, June 30, when Johal’s brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal met with Starmer as well as British shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.

The Guardian report notes that Prime Minister Johnson has claimed that the issue has been raised “almost 100 times” with the Indian government; by Johson to Prime Minister Modi himself as well as by British foreign secretary Liz Truss with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar.

While expressing gratitude at the fact that the matter has finally been mentioned, Johal’s brother Gurpreet also noted that he would “never forget” that it took the UK government close to five years to acknowledge the arbitrary detention of a citizen of the UK.

“But at least they got there in the end,” the report quotes Gurpreet as saying.

Who is Jagtar Singh Johal?

A British national and resident of Dumbarton in Scotland, Johal had travelled to India in October, 2017 to get married. After the wedding, Johal’s parents and his brother, Gurpreet, returned to the UK while Johal stayed behind.

On November 4 that year, the Punjab Police apprehended Johal, alleging his involvement in a number of targeted killings in the country that year, including that of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader, Brigadier Jagdish Gagneja (Retired), as well as affiliations with the KLF, the Indian Express had reported.

Following his arrest, the Punjab Police alleged ties to a number of wanted terrorists and KLF-affiliates within and outside India. They even alleged that Johal had arranged funds KLF operatives to procure weapons for terror attacks. 

Among these operatives was UK-based Taljeet (aka ‘Jimmy) Singh, for whom the police alleged Johal had procured funds to buy weapons. When Singh was apprehended in connection with a weapons recovery case that year, he reportedly informed them of Johal’s presence in the country, on the basis of which the police made the arrest.

Also read: Pegasus Used Against Punjab Lawyer Documenting Police Brutality, Forensic Test of Phone Shows

Ever since his arrest, the sizeable Sikh community in Dunbarton, as well as Sikhs in other parts of the world, have called for his release. Over the years, allegations of torture and custodial violence, coerced confessions and more violations have surfaced.

Speaking to the Express, Johal’s lawyer said that 11 cases have been filed against him by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Punjab Police, and the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. While chargesheets have been filed in all cases, charges have only been framed in the case pertaining to his immediate arrest in 2017. 

He was discharged in one case and is awaiting trial in the rest.

United Nations takes note

In May this year, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had published a report detailing Johal’s case.

The report details Johal’s detention “by 15 unidentified men” who did not identify themselves as belonging to law enforcement. Further, it details allegations of torture including “electric shocks, forcing his limbs into unnatural positions and depriving him of sleep”.

“Despite Johal having been in detention for three years and three months, the (probe) agency has not commenced trials in any of these nine cases and has not produced any admissible evidence,” the report reads.

The report states that Johal’s detention is arbitrary and that the deprivation of liberty of Johal as violative of numerous provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As such, it called for Johal’s immediate release and the payment of reparations and compensation. 

Further, Johal’s lawyer alleges that his detention is based on confessional statements and that investigative agencies have not produced any substantive evidence in the case. It is worth noting here that the UN report includes allegations that Johal was made to sign blank sheets of paper.

Speaking to the Express, an officer of the Punjab police refused to comment on the matter since it is sub-judice. However, the officer denied allegations of wrongdoing, claiming that all procedures were followed in his arrest.

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