Concerns grow after the UK government shows lack of support for Scotsman Jagtar Singh Johal
Jagtar Singh Johal’s campaign poster (Image by STV)
Leader of the Labour Party and the family of Scottish Sikh man Jagtar Singh Johal have pointed out that Rishi Sunak and the Foreign Office appear to be scaling back the UK’s support for him.
Johal, who has been held in prison in India for over five years, is said to have been “arbitrarily detained” by the UK government several times. He was arrested in Punjab where he was travelling for his wedding. Several trial dates have since been postponed and cancelled, because of which he is yet to stand trial.
In line with Boris Johnson’s stance on his imprisonment, Sunak’s government also refused invitations by the Indian government, making it clear that there is no legal basis to hold him.
Additionally, the Guardian has mentioned that Sunak and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have expressed that they only consider the view of the United Nation’s working group on arbitrary detention, which said that Johal was being arbitrarily detained in May last year.
In February this year, Starmer wrote to Sunak, asserting that Johnson had taken “an important step” last year by saying that Johal had indeed been arbitrarily detained.
He also wrote, “I would like to ask if you can confirm if the UK government still believes that Jagtar is being arbitrarily detained and if so, what further steps your government will take to secure a breakthrough in the case?”
However, a reply that was sent to Starmer and seen by legal campaign group Reprieve, who are providing support to his family, Sunak seems to have digressed from the question saying that the FCDO “continues to provide consular support” to Johal and his family.
Sunak added, “I take the UN working group on arbitrary detention opinion concerning Mr Johal very seriously, as did my predecessor, Mr Johnson.”
Starmer then released a separate statement saying that Johnson’s acceptance of the nature of his imprisonment should have prompted the FCDO to ‘formally seek’ his release, the Guardian reported.
He added, “I am therefore concerned that in his response to my letter and in discussions with Jagtar’s family, Rishi Sunak’s government may now be backsliding on their previous stance. To ease these fears, it is crucial No 10 and the Foreign Office make their position on arbitrary detention clear.
“UN experts have been clear that Jagtar shouldn’t be made to suffer in prison a day longer. It is the duty of the British government and political parties in Westminster to make proper representations and do what it takes to bring him home to his family in Dumbarton.”
When the FCDO was asked to clarify the UK’s position, a spokesperson from the organisation said, “We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with the government of India, including his allegations of torture and his right to a fair trial – we are committed to doing what we can to assist him.
“The foreign secretary [James Cleverly] also visited India and raised his case with [the Indian] external affairs minister [Subrahmanyam] Jaishankar on 29 October.”
Johal’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal echoed similar concerns as Starmer saying that his family was concerned after seeing the lack of support from the UK government.
“It has been disappointing since that both James Cleverly and Rishi Sunak seem to be rolling back and not defending the rights of British nationals,” he said.
“We’ve been taken aback. Five years on he’s still being arbitrarily detained, and the UK government has failed us to date. Each time the Indian government has done anything to move the case forward, it’s been because of action taken by the family, as opposed to the UK government.”