The UK government has told the High Court in London that a British Sikh man’s allegations that he was tortured while in custody on murder charges “are not admitted” as part of a legal challenge, which is set to be heard in secret in Britain.
Jagtar Singh Johal, a 36-year-old British citizen from Dumbarton in Scotland, was arrested while in Punjab for his wedding in 2017 and is currently being held at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Mr Johal has alleged that he was subjected to torture and mistreatment, allegations which the authorities have denied and maintained that he was arrested on “serious charges” to face justice before the courts.
UK-based human rights organisation Reprieve is supporting a legal claim by Mr Johal that MI5 and MI6 may have contributed to his “detention and torture” by sharing intelligence with the authorities.
This week, in court papers seen by the BBC, the government’s lawyers say: “For the avoidance of doubt, the allegations of torture and/or inhuman or degrading treatment by the Punjab Police… are not admitted.” They also say the UK government denies having “caused, contributed to [or] legal responsibility for any personal injuries, loss or damage suffered by” Johal. They make several references to Johal having been visited by consular staff from the British High Commission in the days after his detention and appearing “fine”, with “no visible injuries”.
Mr Johal’s family and legal representatives claim this defence is at odds with public and other statements made by UK government officials on his case, and that material has been “selectively quoted”.
Mr Johal’s lawyers from Leigh Day solicitors and Reprieve are seeking a court apology from the British government over its handling of his case.In a statement a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Mr Johal’s allegations against the UK government are the subject of ongoing court proceedings and, as such, it would not be appropriate to comment.” A date for the High Court hearing in London, to be heard in secret, is yet to be set.
The arrest and detention of Mr Johal has also been raised in the UK Parliament over the years, most recently at the end of January when the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) told MPs that the issue was raised during meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar by their British counterparts.
“We want a resolution to this protracted and complex case. Let me assure members that we are doing what we can at the highest levels to support Mr Johal and his family, and we will continue to do so,” FCDO minister Leo Docherty said during a Commons debate on January 19.
“He is facing multiple charges; the trials have started for some of those. Our consular staff will continue to monitor the developments closely throughout the process,” he said.
Mr Johal faces nine charges in India including conspiracy to murder, which carries a death sentence.