With Christmas and Hogmanay just around the corner it’s an important time for being with our families and loved ones.
No one can fail to have been moved by the images of Scot Billy Irving returning home to his fiancée and young son in time for Christmas. Billy had spent 4 years imprisoned in India along with 6 other British citizens known as the ‘Chennai Six’ who had been held on charges of weapons smuggling.
The former soldier’s partner Yvonne McHugh described the past 4 years as ‘hellish’. Billy missed the birth of his son whilst imprisoned in India, and his family campaigned tirelessly for his release. The campaign proved successful, with the six men gaining their freedom after being acquitted of all charges.
It’s great to see Billy and his colleagues returning home. Though for the family of Dumbarton man Jagtar Singh Johal, who is currently imprisoned in India, it’s a painful reminder of the challenges we face in bringing Jagtar back home to Scotland.
Although these are very different cases, they both highlight issues with the Indian justice system which give cause for concern. On 4th November my constituent Jagtar was arrested following his wedding in India in circumstances more akin to a kidnapping than an arrest. Out of nowhere he had a sack forced over his head and was bundled into the back of a van by Punjab police. Despite desperate enquiries by his family, no details were given of why he had been arrested and where he had been taken.
At the time of writing this Jagtar has yet to be charged with any crime. Despite being detained for over six weeks, and appearing in court several times, we know little detail of the allegations against him. Serious concerns have been raised about my constituent’s treatment whilst in detention, including reports of abuse and physical torture.
Regardless of the accusations made against Jagtar, he has the right to a fair trial and we cannot ignore these apparent human rights abuses. Over the past few weeks I have been working to help ensure Jagtar’s welfare and protect his basic human rights.
Jagtar is a former Our Lady of St Patrick’s pupil brought up in West Dunbartonshire. His family in Dumbarton have been left devastated by his imprisonment and I’m doing all I can to assist as their MP with the support of parliamentarians from all political parties.
There has been an incredible response to the #FreeJaggiNow campaign, not just in West Dunbartonshire but across the UK and all over the world. Messages of support have come in from as far afield as Canada and Australia, and thanks to the strength of the campaign across the UK we are starting to see some progress.
The Indian authorities cannot ignore their obligations under international law. I will continue working with parliamentary colleagues and government authorities to ensure an open and transparent judicial process.
Just like Billy Irving’s case, Jagtar’s family have been and will continue to work tirelessly to prove his innocence and bring him back home to Scotland.
This column appeared in the Dumbarton Reporter on 20 December 2017.