Jagtar Singh Johal has been in police custody in India for over two years
‘IT’S been two weeks for us and we’re moaning about it. My brother’s been in jail for 940 days. Imagine what it’s like for him.” Solicitor Gurpreet Singh Johal is talking about his brother Jagtar Singh Johal, the Scotsman arrested in India in November 2017, just a fortnight after his Punjab wedding.
It was days until the family knew what had happened to the keep-fit fan and it’s been almost two and a half years since they last saw him.
During that time, Jagtar – a Sikh blogger known to his supporters as Jaggi – has made countless court appearances, but no evidence has been led against him.
That’s despite initial claims that Indian authorities had everything they needed to prosecute him for involvement in a murder plot that targeted prominent right-wing Hindus.
He is said to have provided £4000 to the plot in a Paris meeting, but his family believe he has been targeted by authorities over his nationality, ethnicity and blogging about the 1984 Sikh massacres in India.
With the rise of Covid-19, the family’s situation has become more desperate.
Jagtar is currently being held in Tihar Jail, part of South Asia’s largest prison complex where thousands of others are also detained.
On March 24, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (above) put the country’s entire 1.3 billion population under a 21-day lockdown aimed at tackling the spread of the potentially lethal virus.
The country has reported more than 2300 cases and at least 50 coronavirus deaths.
From their Dumbarton home, the family fears Jagtar – who is backed by international justice charity Redress – may be more susceptible to the virus due to their shared medical history which has seen several members diagnosed with serious respiratory illnesses and other conditions.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued online appeals in recent days to urge any British citizens in India to come home.
That public information message has stuck in Gurpreet’s craw – after all, he’s been asking the FCO to help bring his brother back for almost 900 days now.
“The family feel frustrated,” he says. “Come home – we’ve been saying this from the outset. For videos to come out saying come home now when he’s stranded and there’s been no support from the FCO is more than annoying.
“It’s not just me now saying the FCO is rubbish, we have got people stuck around the world saying it.”
The Johal family has continuously pressed the FCO and its ministers to meet with them. Boris Johnson didn’t do it when he was foreign secretary, Dominic Raab hasn’t done so since he took over.
Meanwhile, allegations of torture by Punjab police have still not been medically assessed and the family has had no telephone contact with Jagtar since September. His Indian defence agent, Advocate Manjpur, is unable to see Jagtar in jail due to the lockdown, meaning he has lost his one visitor.
The last time the FCO went there, Gurpreet says, was March 16 – meaning no-one has had contact with Jagtar since the Covid-19 lockdown began.
“We don’t even know what the other prisoners are like,” says Gurpreet. “The one consolation we do have is there’s another British national in the same jail. According to the FCO, Jagtar has made some kind of friendship with him
“We are reliant on the FCO for information, the FCO is reliant on Tihar jail.
“It’s clear they’re not going to tell them that they have someone with Covid-19 at the prison.
He continued: “We have got this family history of respiratory weakness and we have raised this with the FCO that he’s at further risk of Covid-19, but all they’re doing is phoning the Tihar jail authorities.
Jaggi’s family with their MP Martin Docherty-Hughes
“At the last meetings he showed frustration with delays in his case. He’s now getting frustrated about what’s going on with his case not progressing and he said ‘Tell Gurpreet to get the case moving as fast as he can’.
“These monthly FCO reports are what we hang on to. The last one was four days late. He’d wanted to say happy birthday to our dad, my son and my wife, but the message came too late.
“At least when we’re on lockdown we can phone our loved ones and talk to our families. Jagtar doesn’t have those luxuries.”
The FCO said: “Our staff continue to support Jagtar and his family following his detention in India. We remain in regular contact with them, and the prison authorities, about his health and wellbeing.”