UK Government fails to declare Scot Sikh arrest 'arbitrary detention'

Three UK prime ministers and four foreign secretaries have failed to determine whether the imprisonment of a Scot Sikh by Indian authorities is legitimate or not, MPs heard yesterday.

Jagtar Singh Johal (Jaggi) protest at the London Indian Consulate in 2018.
Jagtar Singh Johal (Jaggi) protest at the London Indian Consulate in 2018.

A debate in Westminster, led by West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes also failed to force a foreign office minister into declaring whether Jagtar Singh Johal was legally detained, or if he was the victim of arbitrary detention by the Indian police.

Mr Johal, from Dumbarton, was 31 when he travelled to India in October 2017 to marry his fiancée, but a fortnight later was “effectively abducted” in Punjab by plain clothes officers while he was out shopping.

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His lawyers say he was placed under a hood, taken to an undisclosed location and tortured for several days, before being forced to sign blank sheets of paper.

Undated family handout photo of Jagtar Singh Johal

Indian authorities claim he is detained under anti-terror laws.

Mr Docherty-Hughes said Mr Johal’s imprisonment amounted to arbitrary detention – the violation of the right to liberty outside the confines of nationally recognised laws and international standards.

In the debate on Wednesday evening, he said “it seems arbitrary detention clearly is different when you're held by Iran, or China” and added: “Is this [case] deemed arbitrary detention? The government has failed to answer the question time and time again. Time’s up.

"Three prime ministers, four foreign secretaries and so many under-secretaries I have lost count … what will it take for the UK Government to answer the question, is this or is this not arbitrary detention?”

Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams said all cases which required consular assistance were treated equally by the government.

He said: “We do not and must not interfere in civil and criminal court proceedings [of other countries]. It's absolutely right that we respect the legal systems of other countries just as we expect foreign nationals to respect our laws when they are in the United Kingdom."

He said the FCO made no “judgement on the innocence or guilt of any British national who is detained overseas” and the priority was their welfare, concerning water, medical treatment, and access to legal advice.

The government, he said, had “thoroughly considered concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the death penalty in this case” and Mr Johal’s arrest had been raised with Indian officials on more than 17 occasions.

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Pushed by Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael on the point of arbitrary detention, Mr Adams said: "The government takes all allegations of human rights violations extremely seriously.

"We've carefully considered all available information on the arbitrary detention allegations … and will continue to raise concerns regarding human rights directly with the Indian authorities as we judge these to be effective and appropriate in Mr Johal's case.”

Asked if there was a failure to act because of potential trade deals, the minister said: “It's clear that the relationship with India is important.

"The roadmap for future relations agreed in April by our two prime ministers includes a commitment to promote closer co-operation in consular matters, and to resolve long running or complex consular cases.

"I recognise this remains an extremely difficult time for Mr Johal and his family, I can assure that we will continue to do all we can to support the gentleman and to ensure that he is treated in accordance with Indian and international law.”

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