British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal could be held in Indian jail for two years without charge
By Barfi Culture Team
13th March 2018

British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal could be detained in Indian jail for nearly two years without charge, India’s Deputy High Commissioner has told Barfi Culture in an interview.

Johal was kidnapped and detained by police in Punjab in November 2017, while he was there for his wedding, and has been in prison for over 120 days without charge.

He has also alleged being tortured in prison, a claim the government of India denies.

Later today the British Sikh MP Preet Gill will raise the issue of his imprisonment in a debate at Westminster Hall.

Dinesh Patniak, India’s Deputy High Commissioner, who is based in London, spoke to Barfi Culture’s editor-in-chief Sunny Hundal in an interview covering a range of issues, including the imprisonment of Johal. The interview has been edited for clarity.

* * * * *

It is now way over 90 days since Jagtar Singh Johal was arrested. Shouldn’t he have been released by now? Or at least charged so he could stand trial?

Dinesh Patniak told Sunny Hundal: "He is being investigated under seven cases. Seven cases of murder and...death cases. Terrorist activities, unlawful activities. Now, the investigation is going on in all these cases. And the moment the investigation comes to a conclusion, he’ll be either charged or if it's found he is not guilty he will be let off. There’s no question about that."

But in February this year, when Mr Patniak was asked by the BBC Asian Network about the case, he said: "Each case takes ninety days for investigation. That is the amount under the law that is… the investigating agencies are allowed. They cannot cross the ninety-day barrier."

So why hasn’t he been charged or freed?

DP to SH: "Seven cases into 90 days is how much? There are seven cases. Each case is 90 days of investigation time."

Each case? That would mean he could be in jail for over 630 days? Nearly two years. In Britain you can be held without charge for only up to 14 days if you are arrested under the Terrorism Act.

DP to SH: "No, it won’t take that long… Once the investigation is complete, he will be charged with whatever is necessary to charge him."

At what point do you think his detention would have gone on for too long?

DP to SH: "I really cannot comment on that, on how long is long enough. But the point is, each time he is put into custody, he is not put into custody arbitrarily. He is put into custody after taking the permission of the court."

"The British High Commission, who were concerned about him, were given consular access to him. Everybody gets to meet him those who need to meet him, and he is questioned, and the investigation goes on."

"No terrorist, a person who is accused of terrorist activities, cannot be let loose to go around and cover his tracks or to start doing activities, which has happened in many countries. So the point is [the] investigation is done completely under legal consideration."

But if a British citizen can be held up to two years without being charged in Indian prison, don’t Sikhs have a right to worry about being targeted by the Indian government for raising issues that Johal did?

DP to SH: : "Why is it that this one case is worrying everybody so much? Is there something to hide? People are saying that the government of India is deliberately targeting Sikhs. A Sikh was the Prime Minister of India for ten years (Manmohan Singh)."

"I’m just saying, where is the deliberate targeting? I’m not able to see the deliberate targeting [of Sikhs] because… like I told you everything is being done as per the law. And as per the law this is absolutely valid. The courts are doing allowing it to be done."

"Now if somebody is accusing that the courts and the government and everybody is in cahoots with each other, there’s nothing you can do. You can accuse the Americans of doing the same thing, you accuse the British of the same thing. Accusation is easy, but it's being done as per legal terms."

But, in that case, Indian authorities could keep on attaching murder cases to this investigation, and keep him imprisoned indefinitely, couldn’t they?

Dinesh Patniak: "They would never do that. Listen, we are in a society where there are courts, people who can take up the cases, there are NGOs, there are human rights organisations, there is a human rights council which has taken the government to court plenty of times.… you’re not talking about some tinpot dictatorship."

* * * * *

That concluded our focus on Jagtar Singh Johal’s case. Barfi Culture will publish more excerpts from the interview on other issues later this week.

So, is the Indian government allowed to detain Johal for that long?

We contacted a senior advocate in India, who said (off-the-record) that the Indian Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution does allow preventive detention under anti-terror legislation.

Under this law, Indian authorities can detain a suspect, even if they do not have enough evidence to charge a person, providing they can convince a judge the person would commit a wrongful act unless he/she is detained.

Without an FIR (First Information Report), a recording of the offense, its like Johal is being held on preventative grounds.

In December, India Today ran a news report claiming proof of Jagtar Singh Johal's involvement in terror activities, but those claims quickly fell apart.

It is also worth noting that Johal came under suspicion because he (partly) ran the website - which campaigns for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan and on Sikh rights. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, has accused Johal of being complicit in several murders in India, but he has not been formally charged for any crime yet.

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