The plight of a Scottish Sikh still languishing in Indian prison for some 14 months made the front page of the The Times Scotland today (5 Jan 2019).
The newspaper carried a story on a lawyer who fought for justice for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six accusing the British government of ignoring evidence that Jagtar Singh Johal, a Scottish terrorism suspect, has been tortured in India.
Gareth Peirce claims that the British authorities are secretly colluding with India’s counterterrorism agency in the investigation into Jagtar, the Scottish Sikh who is being held in connection with the murder of Hindu nationalists in 2016 and 2017, reports The Times.
Ms Peirce’s previous clients include Gerry Conlon, who spent 15 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the Guildford pub bombing. She is investigating how photographs of Sikh activists apparently seized by British police ended up in the hands of Indian interrogators, the report said.
The newspaper front-paged the case of Jaggi, as he is popularly known, in a report entitled ‘Britain is ‘ignoring torture of Scots Sikh’, with a subhead ‘Lawyer alleges secret collusion with India’.
Mr Johal, 31, from Dumbarton, was arrested, put in a hood and forced into an unmarked police vehicle in November 2017. He was held for six months without hearing the charges against him. Police broadcast a televised “confession” which Ms Peirce said was coerced and provably false. Mr Johal claims that police tortured him and threatened to burn him alive.
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The newspaper quoted the 78-year old human rights solicitor as saying: “Reports of a British citizen being taken hooded to court, the broadcast of a coerced, probably false ‘confession’ and marks of his injuries noted by a consular official should have generated exceptional and energetic activity by his own government.
“Do the clues to this inertia lie in the emerging evidence of close co-operation between the UK and the Indian authorities?
“In repeated cases and worldwide, it has been such covert collusion, belatedly acknowledged, that has accounted for the seeming impotence of official government expressions of concern.
“The urgent need is for Jagtar’s government to apply those lessons from this country’s recent past before it is too late.”
Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, is under pressure from opponents to bring the Hindu nationalists’ killers to justice. Mr Johal fears that he is being used as a political pawn in the forthcoming general election, the report added.
Peirce had also met Jagtar’s lawyer Jaspal Singh Manjhpur who was in the UK for a 10-day visit.
In a statement released by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK), Jaspal said: “The latest twist is India’s National investigation Agency (NIA) worried about the lack of evidence and to delay matters further has appealed to the Supreme Court to transfer many of the cases to Delhi.”
“Apart from the inevitable delay this is causing they are also pushing for Jagtar to be transferred to a prison in Delhi making it difficult to regularly meet with me, his wife and her family who are based hundreds of miles away in Punjab.”
In the statement, it was mentioned that Jagtar also met with Martin Docherty-Hughes their SNP MP and Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs to update them on the latest legal position in India and raised questions on whether the UK Government were doing enough for their citizen.
They agreed to work with the family and keep up pressure on the UK Government to exert appropriate political influence to secure Jagtar’s release, it added.
The statement added:
“Jagtar’s case has involved one gaffe after the other. The first mistake was the police abducted, tortured and threatened to kill a UK national and the second was the controversial Chief Minister of Punjab and the Director General of Police (DGP) politicised the case from the outset by holding a press conference and pre-empted court proceedings.
“Within 3 days of Jagtar’s abduction, torture and police threats of being burnt alive or shot dead at point blank range they made a fundamental error of holding a press conference. Sitting side by side they claimed that they had “solved” a series of high-profile “targeted killings” over the previous two years for which there was pressure on them from those in Delhi to secure arrests.
“The Chief Minister named Jagtar Singh Johal (or Jaggi) as one of those who was in police custody and would be charged. However, it took the police six months to file the 1,000+ page charge sheet after Jagtar’s abduction and torture. Given all the publicity the 1,000+ pages remarkably only had 12 lines that relate to Jagtar that his lawyer has clarified during his UK visit are inadmissible in court.
“The next major blunder came a month after Jagtar’s abduction. Indian police were so worried by the #FreeJaggiNow international campaign, strong political lobbying in the UK with over 250 MPs contacted and tough words of ‘extreme action’ by UK Foreign Office Minister, Rory Stewart on the floor of the House of Commons that they resorted to continue the trial by media.
“The Punjab police no doubt under pressure from their political masters released so-called police video confession tapes of Jagtar exclusively to an Indian TV station to try and ‘demonise’ and show him in a negative light knowing this could never be evidence that would be admissible in court.
“The 12 lines in the charge sheet that came five months later provided nothing more than what was shown to tens of millions on Indian TV and widely reported in the Indian press.
“The legal process in India is extremely slow at the best of times and more than 425 days after Jagtar’s imprisonment the courts have yet to examine the charge sheet and the information collected by the police to decide whether there is substantial material to start a trial against Jagtar. Only if the court is satisfied that the material is enough to start the trial will it frame charges and issue a summons order to start proceedings.”
Jagtar Singh Johal: Mastermind of killings or Punjab government’s NRI scapegoat? (Asia Samachar, 21 Nov 2017)
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