Minreet Kaur: #FreeJaggiNow Debate At UK Parliament Triggers Reactions As Calls For Johal's Release Intensify

Opposition MPs touched upon common themes of undue legal process, arbitrary detention, alleged torture, and the lack of action from the Boris Johnson administration in securing Johal’s release.

Minreet Kaur
July 1, 2021 | 6 min. read | Original Reporting

Yesterday saw a historic UK Parliament debate regarding the arbitrary detention of the Scottish and British citizen, Jagtar Singh Johal. He has been imprisoned in India, without any charges or evidence, for over 1,300 days. 

He was arrested in November of 2017 while shopping with his newly wedded wife in Punjab. Johal is a well-known Sikh activist that spread awareness on the 1984 Sikh Genocide. 

Sikhs across the UK, including Johal’s family, have been steadfast in their criticism of the UK government’s lack of action or urgency in securing his release, with many suggesting the government of having put trade interests ahead of protecting a citizen detained and tortured in another country. 

The debate was lead by SNP MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes.

Opposition MPs touched upon common themes of undue legal process, arbitrary detention, alleged torture, and the lack of action from the Boris Johnson administration in securing Johal’s release. 

The Minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, responded to consistent criticism by stressing that the British government does not interfere in the legal proceedings of other countries, but does speak out on ensuring the welfare of British nationals detained overseas. To which point the Minister shared that the government has “consistently raised the need for an independent and impartial investigation into those torture allegations.”

Adams also added that the government “will always consider making representations to the local authorities if detainees are not treated in line with internationally accepted standards, including if trials are unreasonably delayed compared with local cases…”, however, he did not provide further details beyond stating, “[Johal’s] case remains a priority for the UK Government, and it must be resolved in line with due process and without unreasonable delay”. 

Baaz spoke to various organizations, politicians, and Sikhs on their reaction to yesterday’s debate.

Preet Kaur Gill, MP for Birmingham and Edgbaston:

"Jagtar Singh Johal has been incarcerated for now four years without any charges held against him. It's absolutely clear that this is a case of arbitrary detention. The UN rapporteur has said it and if the government looked at its own legal advice, they would know that this is true. 

The reason this is important, is because the foreign commonwealth development office have a policy that where the citizens are arbitrary detained, they must immediately call for their release and this is the issue here. 

We are seeing a government that is taking the Sikh vote for granted that's how the Sikh community feels they are being ignored by the conservative party, and that it's not actually valuing them as citizens of this country given their contribution. There's a lot of criticism being levelled towards the government not doing enough for citizens and Jagtar Singh Johal is a British citizen and we should be doing everything we possibly can to help support and it's not good enough that the government has continued to say they are raising the matters with India.  

What we need to know is what is it that they are raising and why they are not calling for the release which is in accordance with their policy, we need to see action, we need to stop seeing that this is a government that doesn't care about the Sikh community in the UK and it's really got to be listening and engaging with them in the way it hasn't been doing so today."

Sikh Youth UK: 

“The case of Jagtar Singh Johal and the debate in parliament shows this is one of these most important issues UK Sikhs have faced as British born and bred Sikh activist was taken off the streets of Panjab and faced third-degree torture methods and forced to sign a confession at the behest of the brutal and notorious Panjab police.

While fabricated charges forced up onto him three and half years later he still there.

What had the British government done for him absolutely nothing in fact they started an inquiry into him here by raiding five Sikh activists homes with a current pending court case for Deepa Singh who’s one of those five activists’ homes who got raided by West Midlands Counter Terrorism police.

The UK have taken it a step even further and attempting to extradite three UK citizens now to India which was also raised in today’s debate by one of the MPs so it’s so important these conversations take place at every level possible and well done to Martin Docherty Jaggi's MP for pushing this debate and making it happen.

Let’s all continue to raise Jaggi's voice and follow the @freejagginow campaign team with any support we can offer.” 

Reprieve (non-profit assisting on the matter):

"The UK Government may not fully appreciate how serious Jagtar's situation is, and how urgent the need to secure his release, but MPs clearly do. This is a young British man, tortured into making a false confession, arbitrarily detained without trial for almost four years, facing the very real threat of being sentenced to death. MPs from across the political spectrum stood up yesterday to demand decisive intervention to bring him home. When will the Government get the message and act to save Jagtar's life?"   

Gurpreet Singh Johal (Jagtar Singh Johal’s brother):

"Martin arranged a Parliamentary debate in order to obtain answers from the UK Government Minister on Jagtar's arbitrary detention. Clearly, all of the MP's called for Jagtar's release, despite two interventions by the MP's, the Minister side tracked the question.

The Minister seemed apprehensive and mindful of not falling into a Rory Stewart situation, in which making a promise would lead to his termination in his role as was the case with the Minister in November 2017.

Overall the response was disappointing and to be honest not surprised as the Government has continuously deflected from the serious issues.

140 Parliamentarians have called for Jagtar's release and it was evident that a trade deal is more important than an individual's life." 

Sikh Council UK: 

“We’re thankful to all the MPs that challenged the Government’s stance on Jagtar Singh Johal’s detention. Since Jagtar’s arrest, the experience of his family and loved ones has been frustrating and devastating. Gurpreet Singh Johal, the brother of Jagtar Singh Johal, is the Administrative Secretary of SCUK. 

The Government’s response today only heightened his family’s anguish and has further alienated the Sikh Community, who are becoming increasingly disengaged with the Government’s ‘trade before life’ policy. 

Repeatedly, the Government is showing unacceptable apathy when it comes to dealing with Human Rights violations in India. As Martin Doherty-Hughes pointed out, ‘Arbitrary Detention is clearly different when you’re held by Iran or China.’”

Sikh Federation UK

“Concerns expressed by Martin Docherty-Hughes MP and accepted by Deputy Speaker in UK Parliament of inappropriate lobbying by the Indian High Commission, London and political interference in the judicial process ahead of Jagtar Singh Johal debate.

Indian High Commission through its actions shows Jaggi has no chance of a fair trial and he is being arbitrarily detained for political reasons.

UK Government and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) unable to justify to UK MPs why holding of Jaggi does not amount to arbitrary detention.

MPs from different political parties have given a very clear message to the UK Government that Jagtar is being arbitrarily detained.”

SikhPA

"MP Martin Docherty-Hughes has done a fantastic job of keeping the plight of his constituent Jagtar Singh Johal at the forefront of parliamentary discussions.

Today's debate highlighted Indian state interference in UK affairs, which Boris Johnson's government remain turning a blind eye to.

The MPs that spoke today showed they understand the depth of the mistreatment of Jagtar Singh Johal but what may still not be understood by any politician is the irrevocable damage being done to the trust Sikhs have in the British government as a whole. The Sikh community will not forget the way this government has neglected its duty to British citizens to sacrifice a British Sikh for trade with India."

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Minreet Kaur is an award-winning freelance journalist based in the UK. Daughter of the legendary skipping Sikh which won report of the year in 2020. She has written for BBC, Sky, The Independent, HuffPost, Al Jazeera, and The Tribune. She writes about religion, culture, communities, and human rights. You find Minreet on Twitter at @minkaur5.


Baaz is home to opinions, ideas, and original reporting for the Sikh and Punjabi diaspora. Support us by subscribing. Find us on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook at @BaazNewsOrg.  If you would like to submit a written piece for consideration please email us at editor@baaznews.org