Will try to raise Johal issue with Modi: UK minister
LONDON: The Theresa May government on Tuesday said it will try to raise the issue of British national Jagtar Singh Johal – who is under arrest in Punjab since November 2017 – with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he will visit London for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in April.
Responding to a debate in the Westminster Hall on the imprisonment of British national abroad, moved by Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, foreign office minister Mark Field said MPs were right in raising concerns about human rights in India.
Gill and Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi alleged that private consular access was not allowed to Johal who, according to them, had gone to India to marry his fiancée in October last, but had been allegedly “abducted” by the police and tortured.
On denial of private consular access to Johal, Field said: “It is a matter of great frustration, I have to say. We did request it when Johal was first detained. However, he has since been moved to a maximum security jail, where private visits are not permitted for security reasons”. Asked if Prime Minister Theresa May would raise the issue with Modi, Field said, “I will try to ensure that that is done. These things often have to be done on a private basis rather than through megaphone diplomacy”.
He assured MPs that the foreign office was “exerting to provide the necessary assistance” to Johal and his family in the UK, and noted that the British high commissioner in India, Dominic Asquith, had raised the issue with India’s foreign secretary on March 7.
Since Johal’s arrest, Field said consular staff had been meeting him on a fortnightly basis, and added that he had raised the issue with minister of the state for home Kiren Rijiju during his visit here on January 11.
Field concluded his response by saying that India has a strong democratic framework which is designed to guarantee human rights: “However, it also faces numerous challenges when it comes to enforcing fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
“Members are absolutely right to raise concerns about human rights in India, and because we share these real concerns, the UK government is working alongside the Indian government to build capacity and to share expertise in protection of human rights,” he added.
■ Jagtar Singh Johal