It’s a year to the day since my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal, a 31 year old Scot from Dumbarton, was arrested in India whilst out shopping with his newlywed wife. In scenes reminiscent of a kidnapping, Jagtar had a sack thrown over his head and was dragged into a van by plain-clothed officers as his terrified wife watched on helplessly.
In the days following Jagtar’s arrest, he was denied access to consular support or legal representation. It is also alleged that he was subject to barbaric torture whilst in detention – concerns which have been raised by human rights organisations and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
In written testimony given by my constituent, Jagtar states that he was subject to electric shock to his ears, nipples and genitals and that his limbs were forced into opposite directions. He also describes being stripped and beaten and being forced into extreme sleep deprivation.
Despite these serious allegations, the Indian authorities continue to refuse calls for an investigation to determine the extent of Jagtar’s mistreatment. And after 12 months of repeated requests it’s still not been possible for an independent medical examination to be carried out.
When I raised my constituent’s case in the House of Commons last year, I was assured by Ministers that the UK government would take ‘extreme action’ in response to the torture of a British Citizen. But after numerous meetings and correspondence with Foreign Office officials, Jagtar remains stuck in limbo and his family are growing increasingly frustrated at being ignored by the Foreign Secretary.
There is a suspicion that as we face the economic reality of a hard Brexit, the UK government is prioritising trade deals over defending the rights of British citizens imprisoned abroad. And the longer senior UK Ministers at Cabinet level turn a blind eye to my constituent’s plight, the more difficult it is to argue against that position.
Known as ‘Jaggi’ to his friends, my constituent is a much-loved son, brother and friend to his nearest and dearest here in Scotland – and it shouldn’t be this difficult for a British citizen and his family to secure the support of the UK government, especially given the serious nature of the case.
Regardless of the accusations against Jagtar, his human rights under international law must be protected and that includes the right to a fair trial. But after more than 50 pre-trial hearings and delays, there has yet to be a shred of evidence presented against him.
It cannot be right that the Indian authorities are able to detain Jagtar indefinitely. If they’re unable to provide evidence that Jagtar is guilty then he should be released and allowed to return home to his family.
The #FreeJaggiNow campaign continues to press for justice for Jagtar. It’s a movement that gets bigger every day, with support from people not just in Scotland but across the UK and all over the world.
We haven’t lost hope yet, and I’m grateful for the broad cross-party support the campaign has received from MPs across the country. But it’s now time for the Foreign Secretary to listen and show that the UK government is serious about protecting the rights of its citizens abroad.
This article appeared in the Sunday National on 4 November 2018.