British-Sikh activist Jagtar Singh Johal has become the centre of an international incident after being detained in an Indian prison, accused of “influencing the youth through social media”.
The 30-year-old from Dumbarton, Scotland was arrested on his trip to Punjab after having a sack thrown over his head and bundled into a van by plain-clothes policemen. Much of Jagtar Singh’s work has been in highlighting the injustice of the 1984 genocide of Sikhs.
Dumbarton MP Martin Docherty-Hughes has spoken out against the treatment by Punjab’s police and criticised the “alarming lack of information” given to Singh’s family.
“I am deeply concerned about the circumstances of Jagtar Singh Johal’s arrest and imprisonment in India,” he said. “This has been an extremely distressing time for my constituent’s family and I am doing everything in my power to support them as their Member of Parliament.”
“The lack of information being given to Jagtar’s family by the police and judicial authorities in Delhi following his arrest is alarming. I have raised this as a matter of urgency with the British High Commission of India and the Foreign Office.”
He added: “I will also be contacting the Foreign Secretary and the Scottish Government to ensure that Jagtar and his family are not unfairly mistreated by the Indian authorities. This is an extremely serious matter and I hope my constituents will be fully supported in their efforts to secure a positive outcome.”
The arrest was also condemned by Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill, who said: “People are really concerned because he went to India to get married and their car was stopped, he was hooded and put into a car and all he was told was that he would be taken away.”
“There was no information about what he is meant to have done or what he is being charged with.”
Johal has been denied legal representation in court, as Punjab authorities prevented access to his solicitor and the British consulate in India.
Gill has called for Johal to be returned to the UK in order to receive a fair trial.
“What we hear now is that he is being charged with some sort of act of terrorism, but nobody really knows,” she added.
A Times of India report attempted to link the arrest to the murders of four political figures in the Punjab region; two supporters of the RSS political party as well two followers of convicted rapist and religious leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim. However, there has been no official statement regarding this alleged involvement.
Slough MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi has called into question the impartiality of Punjab’s authorities, and added that if there were questions about Jagtar being involved in terrorism, “Jagtar should not have been issued with a visa to attend his marriage and should have been detained here in the UK”.
Meanwhile, Johal’s elder brother Gurpreet Singh Johal stated that Punjab’s police is known for its torture. “Unless the British authorities quickly step in this will guarantee a law-abiding British citizen will be illegally detained for some time and will not receive a fair trial,” he continued. “He should be immediately released and returned to the UK.”