FM calls for release of Scot held in India since 2017

Jagtar's brother Gurpreet Singh Johal meeting First Minister Humza Yousaf and Angus Robertson
Image caption,Jagtar’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal met First Minister Humza Yousaf and Angus Robertson, cabinet secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, to discuss the case

By Calum McKay & Katie Hunter

BBC Scotland

Humza Yousaf has called for the immediate release of a Scottish man detained in India on terror charges.

Jagtar Singh Johal from Dumbarton has been held without conviction since 2017.

The first minister said he was “gravely concerned” about Mr Johal’s case and would be raising it directly with the UK and Indian governments.

The UK government said it had consistently raised concerns about Mr Johal’s case with Indian ministers.

Mr Yousaf’s call comes after a meeting with Mr Johal’s brother Gurpreet at the Scottish Parliament.

The first minister praised the “resilience” of Mr Johal’s family and said he supported the findings of a group of UN experts that the 36-year-old’s detention was “arbitrary” and lacked legal basis.

He also said the Indian authorities had a “choice” in relation to Mr Johal’s case.

Mr Yousaf told BBC Scotland: “If there is evidence in relation to Jagtar Singh Johal then of course due process should follow.

“If the evidence is not there and he’s been imprisoned for 2,000 days then he should be released.

“I’m very concerned by what I’ve heard from Jagtar’s family in relation to the glacial pace of the court process that is taking place.”

Mr Yousaf called for the UK government to use “every lever they have in their power” in order to call for Mr Johal’s release.

Jagtar Singh Johal has been has been held without conviction in India since 2017
Image caption,Jagtar Singh Johal has been has been held without conviction in India since 2017

Mr Johal was arrested in India’s northern region of Punjab in November 2017 after celebrating his wedding.

His family say he was snatched from the street by plain clothes officers and had a bag placed over his head before being bundled into an unmarked car and taken away.

He has remained in custody ever since and alleges that he was abused and tortured by officers of the Punjab Police in the early days of his detention.

There have been hundreds of pre-trial hearings in his case and a UN panel of experts found last year that his imprisonment was motivated by his Sikh faith, calling for his immediate release.

The Indian government has denied Mr Johal was mistreated or tortured and said he was part of a terrorist network which carried out the killings of right-wing Hindu religious and political figures in the country.

Mr Johal faces conspiracy to murder and terrorism charges to which he has entered a not guilty plea.

‘Clear and unequivocal’

His trial has started but has been drawn out by procedural issues and has yet to hear any meaningful evidence, his supporters argue.

Mr Johal’s family say no direct evidence of his involvement in the killings has been presented and welcomed the call for his release from the first minister.

His brother Gurpreet Singh Johal told the BBC he was “grateful” for the meeting with Mr Yousaf.

He said: “He’s been following Jagtar’s case for a long time, recognises he is arbitrarily detained and told me he’ll do everything he can to bring my brother home.

“The Scottish government’s position is clear and unequivocal: there is no legal basis for Jagtar’s detention and he should be set free.”

He said the UK government – which leads on cases of British citizens detained overseas – had the power to call for his brother’s release but had so far declined to do so.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with the government of India, including his allegations of torture and his right to a fair trial – we are committed to doing what we can to assist him.”

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