Shillong, November 7: Top lawyers have asked UK Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad to retract his recent comments saying that British Sikh Jagtar Singh Johal would receive “due process” in India where he has been detained since 2017 over terror charges.
In a debate about Johal’s case in the House of Lords in September, Ahmad said the UK would not call for the release of an individual or interfere in another country’s legal process “where a due process is being followed”.
Ken MacDonald, Elish Angiolini and Jim Wallace, who have held senior public roles, expressed fears that Johal will not receive ‘due process’ in India amid claims of torture and arbitrary detention, The Guardian reported.
In a letter to Ahmad, coinciding with the sixth anniversary of Johal’s detention, the lawyers said that “there can be no due process where proceedings have been tainted by torture”, or where charges are politically motivated and punish freedom of expression.
Dumbarton-based Johal was in Punjab for his wedding when he was arrested in Jalandhar on November 4, 2017, over his alleged role in killings by the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), a banned terrorist organisation.
According to his family, the 36-year-old has been tortured, including through electric shocks, before being made to sign a blank confession document — allegations that have been denied by the Indian authorities.
He is currently being held at the Tihar Jail and faces a possible death penalty over 10 accusations of murder and conspiracy to murder.
The lawyers’ letter stated that in the six years Johal has been in jail, no credible evidence has been forthcoming, and called on Ahmad to retract his “unsustainable” comments about due process.
Cutting across party lines, a group of more than 70 MPs had called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to seek “immediate release” of Johal, as he travelled to New Delhi to attend the G20 leaders’ summit in September.
Responding to Scottish National Party MP Martin Docherty-Hughes, Lord Ahmed said that with Johal’s trial underway in India, a call for his release would be considered interference in the Indian judicial process, which could jeopardise UK’s ability to offer consular assistance.
He further said that with Johal’s trial underway in India, a call for his release would be considered interference in the Indian judicial process, which could jeopardise UK’s ability to offer consular assistance.
The Minister told Docherty-Hughes that Johal’s issue was brought up by the British Foreign Secretary during his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on March 1.
“Where appropriate, the Prime Minister will also raise Johal’s case during his upcoming engagements with the Indian government,” Lord Ahmed wrote in his letter to the MP.
Sunak confirmed that he raised Johal’s case during his talks with counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the summit but didn’t provide details.
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”.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson told The Guardian that it was committed to resolving Johal’s case “as soon as possible”.
“We continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Johal and his family and have consistently raised his case directly with the government of India,” the spokesperson added. (IANS)