Blogger arrested after alleged UK tip-off

Human rights groups said United Kingdom intelligence agencies may have shared information with the Indian government, leading to the arrest and alleged torture of a Sikh blogger from Scotland.

Mr Jagtar Singh Johal has been held in detention in India for more than four years.

He is accused of being part of a terrorist plot against Indian political leaders and has been charged with conspiracy to murder.

Mr Johal was in India in 2017 when he was forced into an unmarked car, according to his family.

He claimed that he was then tortured over days, including with electrocution.

He has remained in detention since then.

Successive British prime ministers have raised his case but India's government denies Mr Johal was tortured or mistreated.

"Our investigators have uncovered critical information that in 2017, the UK government could have authorised MI5 and MI6 to share information about UK citizen Jagtar Singh Johal," two organisations, Reprieve and Redress, said in a statement.

They claimed the tip-off "led to his unlawful arrest and torture in India".

Mr Johal, from Dumbarton in west Scotland, filed a legal claim against the UK government and is being represented by British law firm Leigh Day.

He is demanding a public apology and redress from the government.

Reprieve and Redress said Mr Johal was abducted in 2017 with a sack over his head when he was in India for his wedding.

They alleged that he was held incommunicado for 10 days and tortured with electric shocks to his ear lobes, nipples and genitals until he signed a "false confession".

"Evidence has been uncovered that the British intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, may have contributed to Jagtar's detention and torture by sharing intelligence with the Indian authorities," the NGOs said.

They accused the UK government of acting while "there was a real risk that Jagtar could be tortured, mistreated or face the death penalty".

Redress director Rupert Skilbeck called for a "full review of the way the UK government responds when UK citizens are tortured abroad" and "the role of the intelligence community in this case".

Mr Day pointed out that a case study in a 2018 report by Investigatory Powers Commission, a British interior ministry body, appeared to be discussing Mr Johal's case.

The commission oversees the use of covert investigatory powers by British authorities, including the police and intelligence services.

It said domestic spy agency MI5 and its overseas counterpart MI6 passed information on a British national to foreign authorities, resulting in detention and torture.

"It would be totally unacceptable for the UK government's actions to have placed an individual, let alone a British citizen, at risk of torture or the death penalty," said Mr Day's partner Waleed Sheikh.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention reported this year that Mr Johal's arrest was "arbitrary" and on "discriminatory grounds".

The activist is being held in Tihar prison in New Delhi, the UN body said.

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said in response to the claims that it would be "inappropriate" to comment during legal proceedings.

In May, Mr Johal was formally charged with conspiracy to commit murder and being a member of a terrorist gang.

He will be presented with a full list of the charges against him next month and faces a possible death penalty.

AFP

"Evidence has been uncovered that the British intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, may have contributed to Jagtar's detention and torture by sharing intelligence with the Indian authorities."

- NGOs Reprieve and Redress

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