In Parliament I spoke for Labour in a debate about Jagtar Singh Johal, a British citizen incarcerated in India for over 3 years without trial. Jagtar is a victim of arbitrary detention, meaning UK government is morally and legally obliged to urge Indian authorities to release him.
The indifference and incompetence that the Foreign Secretary is showing on this matter is utterly unacceptable – he is even refusing to meet with Jagtar’s family. This is a shameful dereliction of the first duty of any government, which is to protect the basic rights of its citizens.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As the shadow Minister who has been lobbying the Government on this issue, I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) for securing this vital debate about his constituent Mr Jagtar Singh Johal. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for their important contributions.
The Labour party is deeply concerned about the Indian police’s incarceration of British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been held without trial for more than three and a half years. Although the Labour party does not involve itself in the internal matters of other countries, we will always stand up for human rights, democracy and international law everywhere, and we will always stand up for British citizens wherever we feel that their rights and freedoms are being violated. We value our country’s long-standing relationship with India, which we see as an important partner in the decades ahead on trade, security, climate change and, critically, the joint promotion of democracy, human rights and upholding international law. However, a strong relationship is worth having only if it means that each Government are able to engage frankly with the other and to challenge each other and take robust positions wherever necessary.
That brings me to the issue we are discussing, which is the deeply troubling case of a UK citizen incarcerated for more than 1,300 days without trial, and with the threat of the death penalty looming over him. Jagtar’s story is heartbreaking, as has been the experience of his wife and wider family, not least his brother, whom I have had the privilege of meeting on a number of occasions over the past year. We have all heard the facts of the case, and they are deeply disturbing for all manner of reasons. It is also worth noting that the United Nations shares our concern. On 29 January 2018, the UN working group on arbitrary detention, the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the special rapporteur on torture sent an urgent representation to the Indian Government. It expressed concerns over the lack of detail on the factual and legal basis for Mr Johal’s arrest and detention, and it questioned the measures that are being taken by the Indian authorities to safeguard him from torture. On 9 November 2019, the United Nations working group and special rapporteurs sent an urgent representation to the Indian Government, insisting that there had been over two years of delay through an unfair legal process, and that the Indian Government must provide the right to due process, a fair trial and independent medical examination, yet there has still been no movement towards either a fair trial or Jagtar’s release.
Given the facts of the case and those UN interventions, I find it astonishing that the Foreign Secretary has refused to meet the family and that the Government Minister responsible in the other place has refused on two occasions to answer my questions on whether the case amounts to arbitrary detention—first, in a letter that I sent to him last autumn, and then in a letter in January of this year, which took the Government three months to reply to. I therefore ask the Minister today whether the Government recognise Jagtar’s incarceration as a clear case of arbitrary detention. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has made it clear that in death penalty cases where the detainee is detained on spurious grounds as a political statement, or in circumstances of clear human rights violations, the detainee’s country should make representations to the detaining state that the detainee should not be in detention or facing charges at all. Are the UK Government acting on that guidance? Do the UK Government intend to implement their own policy?
Three and a half years is more than enough time to gather evidence and bring a case to trial. Jagtar’s continued incarceration is a clear and obvious breach of international human rights law. He is clearly a victim of arbitrary detention and as such should be released immediately. The UK Government must also remind the Indian authorities that international human rights law prohibits the reliance on evidence that has been gathered under torture. Jagtar and his family have been through far too much already. Today is the moment for the UK Government to demonstrate that they are genuinely committed to standing up for a British citizen whose human rights are being violated.