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Nicola Sturgeon pleads for imprisoned British Indian man

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has requested that the UK Foreign Secretary meet with the family of a man who has been held in an Indian prison for nearly four years.


Jagtar Singh Johal, a Dumbarton resident, is being imprisoned under India's anti-terror legislation, accused of plotting the assassination of several right-wing Hindu figures.


Mr Johal earlier stated, through his lawyer, that he was "falsely implicated" and tortured into confessing.


Jagtar Johal. Credits: Free Jaggi Campaign

Ms. Sturgeon expressed worry about his incarceration without charge or trial.


She also expressed her "great concern" over reports of torture and maltreatment of Mr Johal while in jail in her letter to Dominic Raab.


The Indian government has categorically denied the charges, stating that "there is no evidence of maltreatment or torture as claimed."


In October 2017, Mr Johal flew from Scotland to India for his wedding.


Videos from the event show the new groom celebrating by jumping passionately to Bhangra music.


Mr Johal was apprehended by authorities a fortnight later while on a shopping excursion with his new bride in the North Indian state of Punjab, and has been detained ever since.


Mr Johal was a peaceful campaigner, according to his brother Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, and he believes he was arrested because he wrote about historical human rights atrocities against Sikhs in India.


Ms. Sturgeon was approached by Gurpreet Singh Johal earlier this month to ask for her help.


Gurpreet was disappointed with the Foreign Office's support and was unable to meet with the foreign secretary, according to the first minister's letter to Mr Raab.


Mr Raab was requested by Ms Sturgeon to meet with Mr Johal's family "personally" to hear their worries and provide assurances of suitable help.


She also requested him to speak with the Indian authorities about the claims of torture and the significance of a fair trial.


Gurpreet Singh Johal said he spoke with his brother, who is being held in Delhi's maximum security Tihar jail, three weeks ago.


Mr Johal was "in good spirits," he said, but he was anxious about the delays in his case.


Gurpreet Johal expressed his gratitude for finally seeing Ms. Sturgeon after his brother had been held for nearly four years.


"It is disheartening that a British national has been jailed in an Indian jail for 1,380 days and they have still not called for his release," he added of the UK government.


The case against Mr Johal and a gang of men, according to Indian officials, is that they were involved in a "series of killings" of right-wing Hindu leaders.


Mr Johal is said to have been a member of the Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF), which is defined as an international "terrorist group" in the documents.


He is accused of giving £3,000 to the former KLF leader to assist in the funding of the crimes. According to the records, he "actively participated in and was well aware of the plot."


"He is facing very serious allegations, including murder and terrorism abetment," an Indian government official told the BBC.


They added, "The seriousness of the charges against him has been discussed with the British authorities."


Since last year, Mr Johal has been represented by Reprieve, a human rights organisation.


Harriet McCulloch, the organization's Deputy Director, told the BBC that the UK government had "failed" him.


"He's been unlawfully jailed, and he's facing the death penalty for charges made on the basis of a torture confession," she said.


"The UK government has a stated domestic policy of appealing for the release of people like Jagtar who are being arbitrarily detained or kept without a legal basis, thus it is the UK government's responsibility to call for his release."


"The UK [government] has been unable to obtain any outcomes for Jagtar and his family thus far."


Ms McCulloch also chastised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for failing to raise Mr Johal's situation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting earlier this year.


"We have continually highlighted our concerns about Mr Johal's case with the government of India, particularly his accusations of torture and maltreatment and his right to a fair trial," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.


"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, in-person consular visits in India have been discontinued." In lieu of visits, consular officers conduct regular phone chats with Mr Johal."


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