Lord Cameron vows to review case of Briton tortured and detained in India

Jagtar Singh Johal. Picture credit: STV
Jagtar Singh Johal Credit: STV

The brother of a British man who has been held in an Indian prison for more than six years has told the foreign secretary "his life is in your hands" as the government promised to review the case.

On his first visit to Scotland since becoming foreign secretary, Lord David Cameron met the family of Jagtar Singh Johal, who have been campaigning for years for his release.

The British citizen, from Dumbarton, Scotland, faces the death penalty as a result of his campaigning for Sikh rights.

Mr Johal was in Punjab in northern India for his wedding in 2017 when his family said he was arrested and bundled into an unmarked car.

He is said to have been interrogated and tortured, including "using electric shocks, forcing his limbs into painful positions and depriving him of sleep", a UN report in 2022 found.

The United Nations has previously called for Mr Johal's immediate release and said his detention is "arbitrary" and that it "lacks legal basis".

When Lord Cameron returned to politics last November, after being appointed foreign secretary, Mr Johal’s family said they were hopeful he could make a difference.

His brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal, said at the time: “We’re hopeful that the sixth foreign secretary after six years might do something that the other foreign secretaries have failed to do.”

Supporters of Jagtar Singh Johal have been lobbying the British Government to act over his case Credit: James Manning/PA

After a “very important meeting” with the family on Monday, Lord Cameron stressed he was taking the case “incredibly seriously”.

Following the meeting, brother Gurpreet told Sky News: "I have reiterated to him that my brother's life's in your hands, and if he doesn't do anything then my brother could be in there a long time.

"Jagtar is also facing the death penalty, which will be on the foreign secretary, so I have put it on him so he understands the urgency."

Lord Cameron said he would review the action taken so far to “make sure we are doing the right thing”, but stopped short of calling for Mr Johal to be released.

Speaking as he visited the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office building in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Lord Cameron said: “As foreign secretary I have looked at the case, examined all the paperwork.

“I wanted to meet there with the family and hear from them what they think. And I want to really stress, as an incoming foreign secretary, you don’t just accept what the government has said up to now, you really look at it, really ask the questions.

“And meeting with the family today is going to help me to go back and ask those questions all over again to make sure we’re doing the right thing for this British citizen.”

While not calling for Mr Johal to be released, Lord Cameron said: “The Indian Government has got to speed up this case.”

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

He added: “What I have said to the family is I am going to go back to my office and look at the paperwork all over again.

“I am going to take into account what they have said and see whether there is a different approach we should be taking.

“I’ve made absolutely no promises that it will be different, but what I have said is I take these cases very seriously.

“I am going to re-examine everything and make sure we are doing the right thing.

“That’s what you should always do, whether it is someone who has been taken hostage, whether it is someone who is in prison.”

Dabinderjit Singh, principal adviser at the Sikh Federation (UK), however, claimed that UK foreign secretaries had so far “failed” to take the “tough action” needed in this case, adding that the “jury is out” on whether Lord Cameron will have an impact.

Commenting after the meeting, Mr Singh said: “Jagtar’s family not only deserve answers from David Cameron to justify the UK Government approach to a British national being tortured and arbitrarily detained for over six years in an Indian jail, they also need a new strategy to secure his speedy release and return to Scotland to be with his family.

“Jagtar’s MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes has been doing a fantastic job to raise his case at every opportunity, but the UK Government has failed for over six years to take the tough action the foreign minister promised in the UK Parliament within weeks of his abduction and torture.

“The British Sikh community and the wider British public expect better from the UK Government to protect British nationals.

“The jury is out if David Cameron can do the decent thing by using his experience to secure Jagtar’s release where other foreign secretaries and PMs have failed.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…