Jagtar Singh Johal

MPs Debate UK Government’s Inaction in Case of British Blogger Facing the Death Penalty in India

A cross-party group of MPs accused the UK Government today of failing to implement its own policy, in failing to seek the release of Jagtar Singh Johal, a British blogger who has been unlawfully detained in India for over five years, where he faces the death penalty.

Describing Jagtar’s case as “one of the most prominent injustices in modern UK foreign policy”, Martin Docherty-Hughes, Mr Johal’s MP, said he had raised his case in parliament on more than 30 occasions. Speaking at the backbench debate in the House of Commons that he organised on Mr Johal’s imprisonment, he said the UK Government needed “a change in strategy, to be more frank and robust when raising Jagtar’s case” as “the current softly, softly approach quite frankly isn’t working.” Similar criticisms have been raised by families of other British and dual nationals arbitrarily detained abroad, including the families of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Alaa Abd al-Fattah.

Docherty-Hughes accused the UK government of double standards in the case of Mr Johal and not following its own policy which recommends calling for the release of British nationals detained abroad:

“We know that the Government has called for the release of UK citizens arbitrarily detained abroad. Will they do so now for Jagtar?”

The debate took place following the fifth anniversary of Mr Johal’s unlawful arrest in India on 4 November 2017, and a legal claim filed by his legal team at Leigh Day in August 2022, supported by Reprieve and REDRESS, which uncovered evidence suggesting that the UK’s intelligence agencies may have played a role in his abduction and torture, by providing a tip-off that led to his arrest. It also follows a finding last year by UN experts that Jagtar’s detention “lacks a legal basis” and was based on “discriminatory grounds” owing to his Sikh faith and his “status as a human rights defender”. The UN experts called for his immediate release.

Catherine West MP asked the Minister:

“Is he at liberty to enlighten the house on suggestions of British government secret service involvement in Mr Johal’s case? Will he confirm that the Prime Minister will urgently discuss the case of Mr Johal’s case in his next meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi? The saga has gone on for far too long.”

Angela Crawley MP said that the case of Jagtar:

 “is only the latest example of a growing trend of the UK Government’s incompetence and inaction when faced with British nationals detained abroad and it is vital that we ensure that previous blunders are not repeated in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal.”

Deidre Brock MP sought an explanation as to why the UK government had failed to implement its own policy and seek Jagtar’s release:

“It has been more than five years since the UK Government promised to prioritise Jagtar’s case and take extreme action in the event of his torture. When will the Government make good on these promises? Will ministers finally engage with the Indian government to secure his release?”

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP said:

“Given the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding that, and I quote: ‘Jagtar was subjected to torture and that his detention is based on discriminatory grounds’, that it is incumbent upon the Foreign Office to issue Jagtar’s family and legal team with all of the consular support and advice that is required in their fight to get Jagtar’s release so that justice is delivered.”

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said:

“What we heard today from the Minister was more excuses and more vague promises of consular support. He refused to answer the only question that matters: why won’t the Government bring Jagtar – an arbitrarily detained British blogger – home? In the five years he has been imprisoned in India, Five Foreign Secretaries and four Prime Ministers have failed Jagtar – the absence of political will to protect this young British man facing a death sentence is staggering.”

Leanna Burnard, Legal Advisor at REDRESS, said:

“Today’s debate highlights the UK Government’s failure to obtain the release of a British citizen unlawfully detained abroad for over five years and effectively demand that India investigate the serious allegations of torture in this case. We urge the UK government to change its approach, and put an end to this injustice for Jagtar and his family.”  

A full transcript of the debate is available on Commons Hansard.

For more information, or to request an interview, please contact [email protected] or 07464 162554, or Eva Sanchis on [email protected] or +44 07857 110076.

Photo by Free Jaggi Now Campaign.