UK ‘not looking the other way’ over detention of campaigning Sikh blogger

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Accusations the UK has chosen to “look the other way” over the detention and alleged torture of a Scottish Sikh blogger in India has been rejected by a Foreign Office minister.

Speaking at Westminster, Tory frontbencher Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who has been working on the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, insisted progress is being made.

His response followed claims the British Government is turning a blind eye to the 35-year-old’s plight because of trade deal negotiations.

Mr Johal, from Dumbarton, was in Punjab in northern India for his wedding in 2017 when his family say he was arrested and bundled into an unmarked car.

He said has been tortured, including through electric shocks, and faces the death penalty over his activism and campaigning for Sikh human rights.

The independent crossbencher told the chamber: “For this, he has been incarcerated and tortured for years in an Indian jail and is facing the death penalty.”

Highlighting talks held between the UK and India over the plight of Mr Johal, he asked the minister: “What has actually been achieved?

“We talk about the importance of freedom of speech. Would the minister agree that it smacks of hypocrisy when we choose to look the other way while negotiating a trade deal with India?”

“Our relationship with India is a strong relationship. It’s a relationship between friends and constructive partners.

“It’s very much because we invest in that relationship that allows us to raise sensitive cases and issues, including this particular case and others.”

He added: “We are making progress, in my view. Of course, I am totally with the family and the continued detention has caused them much, much anxiety and continues to do so.

“On the issue of the death penalty, the UK Government opposes it in every respect. The Indian authorities are fully aware of the UK’s position in this respect.”

A panel of UN legal experts said Mr Johal’s detention is arbitrary,  “lacks legal basis” and is based on “discriminatory grounds” owing to his Sikh faith and his “status as a human-rights defender”.

The UN said the appropriate resolution would be to release Mr Johal immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

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