10th December 2017   •   opinion
How British Sikh activist Jagtar Singh Johal is being framed by Indian police and the media

Image: India Today
It's now over a month since police in India grabbed British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal off the street, threw a sack over his head and bundled him into a van without explanation.

Since then Punjab Police have not charged him for any crimes or filed a First Incident Report (FIR) naming him, which is necessary to start criminal proceedings.

Even local judges have stopped cooperating on the case. The police have so far presented Johal in court 13 times in 35 days asking for extensions on his time in custody. When court judges have ordered the police to put him in judicial custody instead, or refused an extension, the police have ignored them.

The Indian authorities have a right to present their case and evidence in court. Moreover, I am no supporter of Khalistan and have written repeatedly about Sikh fundamentalism in Britain.

Yet it's becoming increasingly clear Punjab Police are trying to stitch up Jagtar Singh Johal for political reasons.

International attention on this case and widespread condemnation has forced the Chief Minister of Punjab and its police on the defensive. To avoid losing face the government of Punjab has resorted to using Indian journalists to frame Jagtar Singh Johal. They want to neutralise his support with half-baked accusations of terrorism.

As someone who frequently writes for the Hindustan Times, there are lots of diligent, brave and inspirational journalists in India. But there are also lots of awful propagandists who fail in even basic fact-checking.

This brings us to the India Today news channel.

On Thursday 7th December, India Today presenter Gaurav Sawant ran a news report (video at the end) with several allegations about Jagtar Singh Johal that he claimed had been made by Punjab Police.

It is a journalist's job to fact-check and corroborate claims made to them by anyone, including government authorities. It is clear they failed in this basic task.

These are the key claims by Gaurav Sawant during the show.

"Look at these images on your television screen, very closely. This is a suspected Khalistani terrorist. With a Pakistan ISI officer, is what sources from government of India tell India Today's Manjeet Singh Negi." [The image at the top of this article]

"We are using the word 'terrorist' very carefully, that is what the police are claiming."

"So, Jagtar Singh Johal, alias Jaggi, and Taljit Singh, alias Jimmy, are in custody and according to security forces they've confessed they transferred funds to procure the pistols for the killing. Listen in to the confession made on camera."

"So their aim was to kill Hindu leaders in Punjab, revive terrorism in the state, revive that Khalistan movement. So they were sending in money from the UK, a weapon was procured, what was their direct role as far as these two were concerned."

These are claims made by India Today's Manjeet Singh Negi, also on the show with him.

"As per confession by Jagtar Singh Jaggi, he admitted he has knowledge about the planning and killing of Hindu leaders which has happened in recent past two years."

"Jagtar Singh Jaggi has also admitted he visited Dubai in March 2015, in part [for] weapons training, and identified the shooter. And all of this done as per the design of the ISI, as per the Punjab government. And all of this done to revive terrorism in the state of Punjab."

The police and India Today claims fall apart

The news report looks highly suspect right from the start.

1) Why has Punjab Police chosen to leak 'confession' videos to the media instead of officially charging him and trying him in a court of law?

2) The men accused of being a Khalistani terrorists and an ISI agent in the report are anything but. The pictures are of Pakistani historian Ihsan H Nadiem with Sikh academics.

One of men shown in the report, Bobby Singh told Sikh Press Association: "I was there [in Pakistan] in 2012 during Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurab (Guru’s celebration – for Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday) to visit Nankana Sahib. There, due to my open interest in Sikh history, we went to meet the head of the Dyal Singh Majetia Trust, a history organization named after the famed Sikh activist and founder of the Punjab National Bank. This happened to be Ihsan H Nadiem. In the image shared he is presenting us with a set of books on Sikh-Pakistani history, and that’s all. This is the only time I have met him."

If India Today think this man is a senior ISI operative, as they have described him, where is the proof? And where is the proof the men pictured with him are "Khalistani terrorists"? India Today has opened itself to libel action by repeating these claims.

3) The 'confession' from Jagtar Singh Johal is nothing of the sort. It features him talking about setting up the NeverForget84 website, and translating articles from Punjabi into English. That's it. He does not admit to any criminal activity.

There is a different man, Taljit, who makes claims about Johal, but it is not clear how he features in the investigation or who he is. He is an Indian national who came from the UK.

4) Jagtar Singh Johal's family tell me he has never been to Dubai. It should have been easy for India Today to corroborate this claim at least. Did they?

These leaks to India Today illustrate the weakness of Punjab Police's case against Jagtar Singh Johal, not the opposite.

A Punjab MP has now asked the authorities to prove the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is behind the killing of Hindu leaders in the state. I doubt they will.

If Punjab Police has a legitimate case against Jagtar Singh Johal, they should charge him and present the evidence in a court of law. This is a pathetic attempt to stitch him up, and it's more appalling that some media outlets are going along with it. Is it any wonder Sikhs feel the Indian media is biased against them?

Here is the India Today report

The article has been updated to reflect information on Taljit Singh.
Moreover, its only right for me to credit Sikh Press Association for their work on this investigation.
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Sunny Hundal has been a journalist and commentator since 2004. He is editor-in-chief of Barfi Culture
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