Amid death penalty fears, calls grow to free Briton held in India

Jagtar Singh Johal, from Scotland, has been held in India since being arrested in November 2017.

jagtar singh johal
Indian authorities accuse Johal, pictured centre, of being involved in a series of killings of Hindu leaders in Punjab, a Sikh-majority region [File: Shammi Mehra/AFP]

Human rights organisations in the United Kingdom are urging India to free a Scottish man who has been held without trial for more than three years, as fears grow that he could ultimately face the death penalty.

Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton in Scotland, has been held in India since his arrest in Punjab in November 2017, after travelling to the northern region for his wedding.

He is currently being held at the high-security Tihar Jail, in the capital, New Delhi.

Indian authorities accuse Johal, who is of Sikh background, of being involved in a series of killings of Hindu leaders in Punjab, a Sikh-majority region.

Johal, 33, has denied the accusations.

Reprieve, a group that campaigns against the death penalty, on Wednesday called on the UK government to seek Johal’s release, warning if convicted, some of the charges could see him face execution.

Reprieve said it was concerned that the risk of Johal being sentenced to death “is high given the politicised nature of this case” and the “current political climate” in India, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government.

Executions are rare in India, but four men were hanged at New Delhi’s Tihar jail in March last year after being found guilty in an infamous case, of raping and murdering a woman on a bus in the capital in 2012.

Reprieve said it had written a joint letter with the human rights charity Redress and Free Jaggi Now campaign to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab over Johal’s case.

“We are talking about a young British man facing a death sentence on trumped-up political charges,” said Dan Dolan, the charity’s deputy director.

Dolan added it was “just not good enough” for the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to make “generic requests” for due process.

“Action from the British Government could save Jagtar’s life and bring him home to his family,” he said. “Why won’t they call for his release?”

Allegations of torture

Court documents concerning Johal’s case show authorities claim he was a member of the Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF), an organisation described in the charge sheets against him as an international “terrorist gang”, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

But Johal told the BBC via his lawyer that he had been “falsely implicated” by Indian authorities and said he was physically tortured into signing a blank confession.

“They made me sign blank pieces of paper and asked me to say certain lines in front of a camera under fear of extreme torture,” he said via his lawyer.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the allegations of torture, which Indian authorities have denied, telling the BBC there was “no evidence of mistreatment or torture as alleged”.

In response to Al Jazeera’s request for comment, the FCDO said Raab had raised Johal’s case with his Indian counterpart during a visit to India last month.

“We have consistently raised concerns about his case with the government of India, including allegations of torture and mistreatment and his right to a fair trial,” an FCDO spokesperson said in a statement.

“We will continue to raise our concerns directly with the government of India, including the need for an investigation into the allegations of torture.”

At the time of publication, the Indian embassy in the UK had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Source: Al Jazeera