On January 11th Southall’s Labour party MP Virendra Sharma discussed the case of Jagtar Singh – Scottish Sikh detained and tortured without charge in India – on a BBC Punjab news show. During this interview, many inaccurate and misleading statements were made about the case. Sikh PA have worked with the Free Jaggi Now to highlight the inaccuracies made by the MP.
Below is a transcription of the interview with statements added from the Free Jaggi Now team to clarify the truth behind Virender Sharma’s claims. ALL statements from the Free Jaggi Now team have come via liaison with Jagtar Singh’s family and his lawyer. For more information on anything stated, please get in touch via Media@SikhPA.com.
The statements below have been taken from an interview with Virendra Sharma of the Labour party on 11th January 2018:
VS = Virendra Sharma
FJN = Free Jaggi Now
VS: ‘I have total knowledge of the Sikh faith because I have studied it’
FJN: Virendra Sharma is not recognised as a source of education on the Sikh faith, especially in a manner which could be described as having ‘total knowledge’.
On the interviewer referring to him twice ‘as a Labour Party leader’ (6minutes in):
FJN: The BBC needs to pay close attention to the language used by its Punjab team, as Mr Sharma is not a leader of the Labour Party and suggesting he is may warp the audience’s perception of the interview.
VS: ‘I am Chairman of the Europe Human Rights Committee’
FJN: Whilst we respect and commend the work Sharma has done with various human rights committees, we have found nothing to confirm Virender Sharma is in a position of Chairman of the Europe Human Rights Committee.
VS: I have been reassured, both by the British High Commission – the minister and the High Commission, that his human rights have not been violated, Jaggi Johal has been given a full medical check-up, medical support, legal access and access to a lawyer.
FJN: This contradicts both reports from Jagtar Singh’s lawyer and also the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), who have openly stated their concern about reports of torture which is why they have petitioned for an independent medical for him, which has been continually rejected by Indian authorities. Jagtar has confirmed to the FCO that he has been tortured, and the FCO have called on India’s Ministry of External Affairs to investigate mistreatment. Jagtar is still classified as vulnerable by the FCO. For Virender Sharma to not mention any of this in discussion about Jagtar Singh shows either a lack of knowledge on the case or an attempt to ignore some of the concerning issues about it.
VS: His family are meeting him.
FJN: Jagtar Singh’s whereabouts were not revealed to his family for two days after his arrest and meetings between them have been highly restricted. Recently between 17th January and 19th January, Jagtar’s whereabout were once again undisclosed as he was transferred to police custody after a secret hearing held in suspicious circumstances, without legal representation.
Asked if he is satisfied with actions of the Punjab government given that Jagtar Singh is a British citizen:
VS: ‘I am a British member of parliament, for me, the internal method of India is the internal matter of India. To interfere with the legal system in India… I have raised a question… as to whether the response has been satisfactory, that’s up to the family to correct. I do not know Jaggi Johal, I don’t have any knowledge about him, as far as I am concerned I do not have any knowledge of the system. Because of this, for me to say if I am satisfied or not, I will certainly say that I am satisfied with the response of the British High Commissioner because he cannot give us incorrect feedback.
FJN: This ignores the fact that the British High Commission have both not been given a private meeting with Jagtar Singh away from the presence of Punjab Police, nor have they been allowed to facilitate an independent medical for him.
Interviewer: Regarding the allegation from Jagtar Singh’s family that there has been a human rights violation regarding him, they are not satisfied with the reply from the British High Commission…
VS: ‘First of all, their local lawyer should prove the evidence.
FJN: Multiple petitions have been filed in the lower and high court to investigate torture. The Free Jaggi Now Campaign has worked with Redress and Ensaaf to submit a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture regarding Jagtar’s mistreatment, calling on them to investigate. Jagtar Singh’s lawyer has publicly aired detailed reports of his torture and did request an independent medical, which was rejected. All of these are attempts to provide evidence of Jagtar Singh’s mistreatment and Punjab Police’s human rights violations.
VS: The lawyer should produce the evidence – photographs of bodily harm that has occurred…
FJN: Jagtar Singh reported being electrocuted and having his legs stretched beyond their capabilities, which likely will not be visible on camera. Also, every meeting with Jagtar Singh has been in the presence of Punjab Police.
VS: …where he was denied medical access, when he was denied a lawyer in court, or when a one-to-one interview with his lawyer did not happen. If they bring this to the public, it is my impression that the media would certainly cover it and the information would be given to the public. On the basis of that information, people abroad can take action and give a response.’
FJN: Respected Sikh and Punjabi news site Sikh Siyasat has covered every instance when Jagtar Singh was denied a chance to have a lawyer in court, based directly from information given by Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, Jagtar Singh’s lawyer. The FCO have noted based on their interactions with Jagtar and their monitoring of the situation that Jagtar’s medicals have been “cursory” and not independent. There has even been a court order to stop the police from conducting medicals in police vans calling on them to have a medical conducted in a civil hospital. An appeal petition to the high court for an independent medical has been set to be heard in March 2018. Consular services have been continually denied private access to assess Jagtar Singh’s condition. Mr Sharma, as a British MP should be aware of these well-published facts.
VS: ‘I say with respect that Jaggi Johal was not a known personality. He came into the limelight after he was detained. Because of this, to comment on him is very difficult unless you were very closely acquainted with him. When he is brought to court, as far as I have been told, that we have enough evidence upon which we have stopped (i.e. detained) him.
FJN: No evidence has been shown to link Jagtar Singh with any crime. Upon his arrest, Punjab Chief minister Captain Amarinder claimed the Punjab Police had ‘solved’ crimes, without any evidence or trial.
VS: And I also feel that if the British High Commissioner was not convinced of this then he would not have said it to me – that he does have legal access, that he does have medical aid, family access, and with that you have the campaign, separately you have the judgement right or wrong, evidence, the presentation of Jaggi in court will happen … for outside politicians to say whether it is right or wrong is difficult, because later they are answerable if they support the wrong side. Because of that, it was my responsibility to enquire, one thing is that he is not my constituent, so I am satisfied with my enquiry on the basis of him being a British citizen – that what the British High Commission has said to me is based on some form of evidence, of it I can’t say anything.’
FJN: Mr Sharma has both claimed to not be in a position to comment, and provided misleading and inaccurate commentary. Mr Sharma should provide a factual explanation as to what promoted his inquiry into Jagtar Singh’s case. His comments, in Punjabi, on a BBC Punjabi network, are misguiding listeners. He also insinuates that Jagtar will be found guilty and many of Jagtar Singh’s supporters, including “outside politicians” (referring to UK MPs), will have picked the “wrong side”. Mr Sharma’s comments during this interview are counter-productive to all those, including many MPs, who are pushing for a fair and open process for Jagtar Singh, who as of yet has still not been charged, despite being detained for over 70 days (76 as of January 19th).