A Scottish Sikh being held in India should be immediately released, a UN human rights group has said, after it found his continued imprisonment had no legal basis.
Jagtar Singh Johal, of Dumbarton, was arrested on November 4, 2017, after travelling to the Punjab for his wedding, with local media linking his detention to the killing of Hindu leaders in the area. He is yet to stand trial.
Since Jagtar, or Jaggi as he is known, was arrested, several trial dates have been postponed or cancelled. The latest was Saturday, May 7.
“One thing that has been certain in Jagtar’s whole detention is adjournments. Adjournment, after adjournment, after adjournment,” said Jaggi’s brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal. “[the latest delay] was disappointing, but I can’t believe it’s still ongoing to be honest.”
Now the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said the “continued pre-trial detention of Mr Johal lacks legal basis and is arbitrary”.
In their report, the authors said he was abducted by 15 plainclothes police officers who placed a hood over his head and pulled him into an unmarked car.
“Mr 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 17-page report said.
It added there was “no judicially admissible evidence against Mr Johal, despite intelligence agencies having over three years to investigate” and the “appropriate remedy would be to release Mr Johal immediately”.
During his time in detention he has been interrogated and tortured, the UN panel said, “including using electric shocks, forcing his limbs into painful positions and depriving him of sleep”.
“Mr Johal 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,” the report said.
“The admission into evidence of a statement allegedly obtained through torture or ill-treatment renders the entire proceedings unfair, regardless of whether other evidence were available to support the verdict.
“The burden of proof rests on the Government (of India) to prove that statements were given freely, which it has not done so in this case.”
Speaking to STV News, Gurpreet spoke of his relief after an internationally recognised organisation found what his family always suspected.
Calling on Westminster to act he said, “There’s no way the UK Government can say he is not arbitrarily detained unless they are going to disagree with a judgement that has been given.”
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, described the report’s publication as a “watershed moment”.
“There is no longer any excuse for the Government’s continued failure to call for Jagtar’s release and return,” she said.
“When a British citizen is tortured and held in pre-trial detention for four years, facing a potential death sentence, the Prime Minister’s responsibility is clear. What is Boris Johnson waiting for?”
Charlie Loudon, international legal adviser at Redress, said: “The UK Government promised ‘extreme action’ in Jagtar’s case in 2017, but has failed to live up to this commitment.
“Now that a panel of UN experts has called for Jagtar’s release, it is imperative that the UK Government does the same.”
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case with the government of India, including his allegations of torture and mistreatment and his right to a fair trial.
“The Prime Minister raised the case with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi when they met in Delhi on April 22.”