Jagtar Singh Johal: Tortured Scot's family astonished by tip-off claim

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Media caption,

Watch: 'Britain betrayed my brother, now he may be hanged'

The brother of a Sikh man detained in India for five years says it is "distressing and astonishing" that the UK government may have played a part in his incarceration.

In May, Jagtar Singh Johal, 35, from Dumbarton, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

His family claim he was abducted and tortured by Punjab police.

The UK intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 have now been accused of tipping off Indian authorities.

Mr Johal's family have been fighting for his release, and successive British prime ministers have raised his case with the Indian authorities.

Mr Johal has also been charged with being a member of a terrorist gang and could face the death penalty.

At the time of detention, he was an active blogger and campaigner for Sikh human rights, which are said to have brought him to the attention of the Indian authorities.

They say the charges are related to Sikh nationalism, although Mr Johal denies any wrongdoing.

Lawyers for Mr Johal have lodged a complaint against the UK government, after human rights group Reprieve uncovered evidence suggesting MI5 and MI6 passed information about a British national to foreign authorities who was then detained and tortured - details which match Mr Johal's case.

Image source, Gupreet Singh Johal
Image caption,
Jagtar Singh Johal (pictured right with his brother Gurpreet) has been held in India since November 2017

An investigation by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in May that there was no legal basis for Mr Johal's detention in India, citing multiple violations of his human rights - including claims he was tortured into signing a false "confession", via electric shocks to his earlobes, nipples and genitals.

The UK government says it will not comment on an ongoing legal case.

Mr Johal's brother, Gurpreet, who lives in Glasgow, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, the family had been through a "living nightmare" over the past five years and had been failed by the UK government.

"To hear that the UK government, who should be protecting their citizens, was involved in this is distressing and astonishing," he said. "They need to be bringing my brother back home. They've failed the family for the last five years and are continuing to do so. Enough is enough.

"It's disappointing if Boris Johnson and Theresa May were involved, given they have raised it to the highest level. Was that all just lip service that they were providing to the family, knowing that they were involved?

"It's concerning, but they can still fix this wrong by bringing Jagtar home. He's lost the last five years of his life and the whole family have been facing this nightmare."

He later told the BBC News channel his brother had been "betrayed" by the UK government.

Gurpeet Johal said that two weeks after getting married in India in November 2017, Mr Johal was out shopping with his wife and a cousin when their car was intercepted by unknown men. He said his brother was hooded, bundled into a van and taken away. He has remained incarcerated ever since.

'My brother is innocent'

"It's been a nightmare upon a nightmare," he said. "How do I tell my kids, who are nine and 11 years old that the UK government are failing their uncle. My brother is innocent and if the Indian government had the alleged evidence against him he would have been charged, tried and convicted - which results in the death penalty. It's taken them almost five years to bring charges.

"Our family are scared now that Jagtar might be falsely convicted and hang. This is the reality of the consequences of what the British government has done.

"A British national should never have been tortured to sign a blank confession."

Gurpeet Johal said the last time he spoke to his brother was in March and it was very brief.

"Over the last five years we've literally had about 10 calls with him," he said.

Image caption,
Jagtar Singh Johal (right) arrives at court in India in November 2017

Speaking about the latest revelations, the family's MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes, said: "This is a truly astonishing and unanticipated development in Jagtar's case which raises massive questions, not only for his family in Dumbarton and for the millions of UK citizens who travel to India regularly, but also for those who study UK foreign policy in practice.

"If proven, these allegations risk destroying whatever confidence Britain's Sikh, and other minority populations, had in the security services, and, by extension, calls into question what value the UK government saw in this shadowy transaction.

"As Jagtar's constituency MP, I want to know which UK government ministers were in the chain which ultimately led to this intelligence being shared, what they knew about the risks of torture should Jagtar be detained by the Indian police, and ultimately what the conceivable interest to UK citizens could have been from offering one of our own up in this fashion."

Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "These allegations are extremely serious and very alarming. No-one - especially not a British citizen - should ever face torture or execution as a result of information shared by the UK's intelligence services.

"Government ministers must urgently explain whether they authorised this intelligence sharing, and if so why. This is sadly not the first case like this we have seen, but it must be the last."

On 12 August, Mr Johal lodged a claim in the High Court against the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the attorney general, alleging that UK intelligence agencies unlawfully shared information with the Indian authorities when there was a risk he could be tortured.