End The Death Penalty End Unlawful Detention Stop The Use Of Torture Press release

MI5 and MI6 tip off tied to torture of British blogger at risk of death penalty

The UK’s intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 provided a tip-off that led to the detention and torture of British blogger Jagtar Singh Johal, it is claimed in a legal claim filed by Mr Johal and supported by Reprieve and REDRESS.   

Jagtar Singh Johal is a British man from Dumbarton, who visited India for his wedding in 2017. Shortly after his wedding, Jagtar and his wife were out shopping when he was abducted off the street, having a sack put over his head and bundled into a car. For 10 days he was held incommunicado and not allowed to see a lawyer, his family members, or a representative of the British High Commission. He was tortured into signing a false ‘confession’, including through electric shocks to his ear lobes, nipples, and genitals, and the police bringing petrol into his cell and threatening to burn him alive. 

Evidence has now 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 when there was a real risk that Jagtar could be tortured, mistreated, or face the death penalty.  

Jagtar’s legal team at Leigh Day is arguing that he appears to be the individual described anonymously in a report by the UK’s Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO), which sets out how MI5 and MI6 passed information about a British national to foreign authorities who then detained and tortured them, based on striking similarities between this case study and Jagtar’s case. 

Jagtar is asking the Government to grant him redress for the harm he has suffered and recognise its actions were unlawful. He has also sought a public apology for the Government’s role in his suffering. 

This year the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Jagtar’s detention “lacks [a] legal basis”, was based on “discriminatory grounds” owing to his Sikh faith and his “status as a human rights defender”. The opinion states that Jagtar was “subjected to torture” and that he was “targeted because of his activities as a Sikh practitioner and supporter and because of his activism in writing public posts calling for accountability for alleged actions committed against Sikhs by the authorities”. The UN concluded that the appropriate resolution would be to “release Mr. Johal immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law”. 

Gurpreet Singh Johal, Jagtar’s brother, said:  

“I never imagined the scenes I’d seen in horror movies of people being abducted by a foreign Government and violently tortured could become a reality for someone in my family. When it did, I expected our Government would do everything in its power to save my brother. The twist is that not only has our Government abandoned one of its own citizens, it’s actively betrayed him.  

“If this can happen to my brother, it could happen to any British national traveling overseas. Jagtar’s only ‘crime’ was writing blogs exposing the Indian Government’s mistreatment of Sikhs, and the United Nations says this is the reason he’s been targeted. The UK should be championing free speech around the world, not assisting repressive regimes to torture and lock up British nationals who dare to criticise them. We need answers and accountability to make sure no other British family is put through this living hell.”  

Rupert Skilbeck, Director of REDRESS, said: 

“Jagtar’s case demonstrates how important it is that there is a full review of the way that the UK government responds when UK citizens are tortured abroad, including a careful examination of the role of the intelligence community in this case. Where there is any suggestion of collusion then there must be a full investigation, as there can be no immunity for torture.” 

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said:  

“It was already a scandal that when a British national was snatched off the street by Indian authorities while on his honeymoon, Boris Johnson left him to rot for five years before finally admitting he was being arbitrarily detained. Now it appears the UK Government hasn’t just been negligent, but may have unlawfully enabled his abduction and brutal torture through a tip off to the Indian authorities. 

“The very least we can expect of our Government is not to share intelligence that leads to us being detained and tortured overseas. We’re talking about a British blogger who United Nations experts say has been targeted because he spoke out against abuses committed against the Sikh community in India – the UK Government must finally bring him home.”

Leigh Day partner Waleed Sheikh said:

“Our client is a British man from Dumbarton who has now been detained in an Indian prison for more than four and a half years, without prospect of trial or release in the near future. It is vitally important for our client and his family to understand whether or not and to what extent the UK authorities were involved in sharing intelligence that may have led to our client’s arrest and subsequent 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.”

Notes to editors:  

For further details or to arrange an interview please contact Eva Sanchis of REDRESS at [email protected] or +44(0) 20 7793 1777 and/or Georgie Robertson of Reprieve at [email protected] or +447984455763

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s opinion on Jagtar Singh Johal’s case can be found here: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/2022-05/A-HRC-WGAD-2021-80-India-AEV.pdf