The arrest of British national Jagtar Singh Johal alias Jaggi by Punjab Police in the case relating to the targeted killings in Punjab has triggered protests by the Sikh diaspora from Melbourne to Toronto, with even the British PM, Theresa May, assuring that the her foreign office was tracking the case. Indian Express finds out who is Johal and why Sikhs abroad are up in arms over his arrest.
Who is Jagtar Singh Johal?
Jagtar Singh Johal (30) is a UK national and a resident of Dumbarton, Scotland. He was arrested on November 4 from Jalandhar district by a team of Punjab Police for his alleged role in the targeted killings from April 2016 to October 2017, including the murder of RSS leader Brigadier (retd) Jagdish Gagneja. Police claim Johal knew in advance about the plot to kill Gagneja and others.
Johal arrived in India on October 2, and got married here on October 18. His brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal, and parents flew back to UK after the marriage, but he chose to stay on. Johal’s family runs a takeaway eatery joint in Scotland, say Punjab Police investigators.
They add that Johal was in touch with the alleged masterminds of targeted killings, Pakistan-based Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Harmeet Singh aka “PhD”, and UK-based Gursharanbir Singh, wanted by Punjab Police in the 2009 killing of Rashtriya Sikh Sangat leader Rulda Singh, who was gunned down in Patiala. Police also claim to have “clinching evidence” that Johal was in touch with radical Sikh leaders abroad and had met KLF terror operative Harminder Singh Mintoo in France before his arrest. Investigators say that Johal arranged funds to obtain weapons in India for terrorist acts. The funds, according to police, were made available to Taljeet Singh aka Jimmy Singh who also lived in UK and has also been arrested. Jimmy in turn procured weapons from his Jammu-based cousin.
Investigators say that Johal also ran a website along with another UK-based person called neverforget84.com where he uploaded posts to fuel hate, and radical ideas. They suspect that Johal was likely to have made good money through “click on the links”.
How was Johal arrested?
Punjab Police had issued a look out circular for Jimmy Singh in connection with a weapon recovery case registered at Bagha Purana in Moga district last year. Jimmy Singh was nabbed as he landed at Delhi from the UK. He told police about Johal and his presence in Punjab for his marriage. A Punjab Police team arrested Johal on November 4 and subsequently three more arrests were made — gangster Dharmender Singh Guggni, who was lodged in Nabha jail, and after his interrogation of shooters Ramandeep Singh alias Canadian and Hardeep Singh alias Shera, who are alleged to have executed the killings.
Why is there a political hue and cry in UK and Canada over Johal’s arrest?
West Dunbartonshire constituency, like some other constituencies in the UK, is home to a large number of Sikhs. MP Martin Docherty-Hughes vociferously raised the issue of Johal’s arrest in the House of Commons, also referring to reports of alleged torture by Punjab Police, a charge Punjab Police denies. British Labour Party MP from Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the first turbaned MP in UK, and Preet Gill, who represents Birmingham Edgbaston, have also voiced their concern on the arrest. Sikh groups who have always alleged human rights violations by Punjab Police approached the MPs to seek their intervention. British Prime Minister Theresa May also said that Foreign Office representatives were keeping tabs on the case. Politicians in Canada too raised concern over reports of “torture”. An MP of Canada’s third largest party, the National Democratic Party, Cheryl Hardcastle, has written to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
“Even the allegation of torture should rattle a lover of democracy & human rights to their inner most core. That’s why reports of torture, including electrocution, of Jagtar Singh Johal by Indian Authorities is deeply chilling & requires immediate attention,” tweeted NDP chief Jagmeet Singh. Amarinder Singh government reacted sharply and rebutted the allegations.
What has been scale of the protests?
Those opposing the arrest of Jaggi have started online campaigns seeking to free Jaggi on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. UK-based Sikh Federation has approached over 100 MPs in UK through constituents as part of its ‘Free Jaggi’ campaign, urging them to take up the issue.
On November 18, Indian High Commissioner to Australia A M Gondane was initially denied entry to Tarneit Gurudwara in Melbourne where Sikh protestors grilled him over the arrest of Jaggi.
What is British MP Martin Docherty-Hughes saying on the issue?
In an email response to The Indian Express, the MP said: “Since the 4th November my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal has been held without charge by state authorities in Punjab. During the first ten days of his detention my constituent was denied his right to consular support from the UK High Commission. It is now almost four weeks since Jagtar was first arrested and, despite appearing in court several times, he has yet to be charged with any crime…Concerns remain about Jagtar’s treatment whilst he has been held in remand, in particular the serious reports of torture. Regardless of the allegations made against him, the Punjab Police must meet their obligations under international law and we cannot ignore these serious claims of human rights violations…People from all over Scotland and across the world have expressed concerns about Jagtar’s welfare. Many parliamentarians in the UK have also contacted me in support of the campaign to help Jagtar and we will continue pressing the State authorities to ensure an open an transparent judicial process.”
How is Johal’s family dealing with the case?
Johal’s elder brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal, a solicitor in UK, alleged that the family suspected that police in India “may fabricate” a passport and put fake stamps on it to suggest that Jaggi had visited Pakistan, a charge that Punjab Police officials laughed at. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from the UK, Gurpreet alleged that his brother was falsely implicated in the case. Balwinder Singh, Johal’s father-in-law, told The Indian Express over phone that he stood by his son-in-law, and said he had been implicated in a “false case”.
“With so much support from politicians in UK and Canada, we are hopeful that truth will emerge and he will be freed,” added Balwinder Singh. The family has also asked Sikh organisations not to collect funds for Johal’s legal battle without consulting the family.
“We have a strong legal team in place working for the release of Jagtar….We do NOT require any financial assistance at this stage and request for no one to collect any funds for Jagtar without the family’s consultation… with Guru Ji’s Kirpa we shall have Jagtar Singh with us all again very soon,” a statement by the Johal family said earlier.
What is Punjab Police saying?
Declining to be quoted on record, Punjab Police officers questioned the “double standards” of UK and Canada on terrorism. “If there is any terror act in their country, they will talk big against terrorism. But, if terror acts are plotted from those countries to target Punjab, they shift the goal posts,” said a senior Punjab police officer.
How is the issue is playing out in Punjab politics?
While the Congress government is unfazed over the mounting pressure from UK and Canada and maintains it has enough proof against Johal, opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party have sought clarification and asked the government to make public the exact role of Johal in the alleged terror plot and targeted killings. SAD’s alliance partner BJP had taken a divergent view, justifying the arrest of Johal, but later a joint delegation of SAD-BJP submitted a memorandum to Vidhan Sabha Speaker seeking a discussion in the Assembly and making public the exact role of Johal that led to his arrest.