London: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed that he raised the case of a Scottish Sikh detained in India since 2017 during his talks with counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi, a BBC report said.
While the UK Foreign Office ruled out intervening in the Jagtar Singh Johal’s case on September 8, Sunak, under pressure to highlight the issue, said he raised it along with other consular issues.
He did not provide details, but said: “The Foreign Office is continuing to provide support to Mr Johal’s family and will continue to do so.”
In response to the development, campaigners for Johal said the UK government should declare Modi’s response to Sunak on the issue, and that it is “meaningless” if the Prime Minister didn’t call for “immediate release”, the BBC reported on Sunday.
“What did Rishi Sunak say to Narendra Modi about the case and how did he respond? Without answers to these questions, the prime minister’s talk is meaningless,” Maya Foa, Director of human rights group Reprieve, told the BBC.
The UK Sikh Federation said Sunak had appeared “very reluctant” to press Johal’s case since entering No 10, and “has demonstrated his weakness and lack of leadership by shamefully failing to stand up for the rights of a British citizen”.
“Rishi Sunak and his Foreign Office ministers are now talking utter nonsense in terms of Jagtar’s best interests and justice. They appear scared and clueless on how best to apply diplomatic pressure on India and are leaving it to the corrupt Indian judicial system,” Dabinderjit Singh, the principal adviser to the Sikh Federation, told the BBC.
Sunak’s action came after a group of more than 70 MPs called on him last week to urge Prime Minister Modi to secure the 36-year-old Sikh campaigner’s “immediate release”.
En route New Delhi for the G20 Summit on September 9-10, Sunak, on being asked whether he would be raising the case, said that he would be “raising a range of things with Prime Minister Modi — this (Johal’s case) is something that, just so people are reassured, has already been raised on multiple levels on multiple occasions”.
Johal’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal, a lawyer and Labour councillor, said he is “pleased” that Sunak has raised the case with Modi but it is “not enough”.
“Raising (the case) is not enough unless he has called for Jagtar’s release in line with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s findings. I fear that this is just more talk from the UK government and no action,” Gurpreet told the BBC.
Jagtar Singh Johal from Dumbarton was in Punjab for his wedding when he was arrested from Jalandhar on November 4, 2017, over his alleged role in killings by the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), a banned terrorist organisation.
His family claims that he was tortured, including through electric shocks, before being made to sign a blank confession document — allegations that have been denied by the Indian authorities.
In May 2022, the UN working group on arbitrary detention concluded that he had been arbitrarily detained and that his detention breached international human rights law.
He is currently being held at the Tihar Jail in Delhi and faces a possible death penalty over eight charges of conspiracy to murder, linked to political violence in India.
Denying all the charges against him, Jagtar Singh Johal says his arrest and trial are political.