Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 10.25.40

FCO ‘golden mosque’ Darbar Sahib mistake – Sikh PA official statement

Yesterday Sir Simon Mcdonald outraged members of the Sikh community by referring to Darbar Sahib, site of Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht, as the ‘golden mosque’ in a tweet. This came shortly after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Permanent Under-Secretary was feeling the wrath of #FreeJaggiNow supporters for failing to address the issue of Jagtar Singh Johal – Scottish Sikh detained for over 160 days without charge by Punjab authorities – in a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder.

Here Sikh PA share our thoughts on what the mistake highlights about British government-Sikh community relations.


The Sikh Press Association is shocked and disappointed following an obvious mistake by senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official Sir Simon McDonald.

The Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office referred to Darbar Sahib in Amritsar as the ‘Golden Mosque’ in a tweet on Monday evening. Often referred to as the Golden Temple, Darbar Sahib is internationally renowned as one of the most sacred Gurdwara sites of the Sikh faith.

We did not expect to see such religious illiteracy from the country’s top diplomat, especially whilst he was visiting the Sikh homeland. This is an example of ignorance and a racist conflation with Islam which Sikhs have seen impact us to tragic lengths in recent history. Considering the status and integration of the Sikh community in the UK, this is not a sentiment we would have envisaged a UK government official fuel.

The British government must undertake an urgent consideration of the religious literacy of its staff. As Sir Simon’s tweet has today shown, it is needed at even the highest level of the civil service. And when it happens, it must include Panthic organisations who are best placed to educate about Sikhi; the same organisations connecting with and teaching Sikhs in Gurdwaras and at community events across the nation.

The Sikh Press Association was founded to combat precisely this sort of ignorance. We shall call it out firmly, even when it comes from one of the country’s highest officials. We hope that the FCO will work with us to eradicate this kind of ignorance and build a genuine understanding of the Sikh faith and the Sikh community.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 17.18.07

Outrage as top Foreign Office official meets with Chief Minister of Punjab, without mentioning Jaggi

NOTE – Since this story broke, Foreign Office secretary Sir Simon Mcdonald further upset the Sikh community by tweeting about the ‘golden mosque’ of Amritsar, in what was an obvious mistake in reference to Sri Darbar Sahib, often called the Golden Temple.


Supporters of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign were left outraged today after learning the chief civil servant at the UK Foreign Office met Punjab’s Chief Minister (CM), without mentioning the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, the Scotsman currently detained by Punjab authorities.

Social media was awash with messages asking why the case of Jagtar Singh, currently detained in India for over 160 days without any charge and having been denied both a private meeting with British consulate and an independent medical, was not raised.

The meeting was revealed on Twitter this morning, after both Punjab’s CM Captain Amarinder and Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, tweeted images about their meeting. This was the first the #FreeJaggiNow team, who have been pushing for further UK government intervention in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, learnt of the meeting.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 17.06.33

Speaking with the Sikh Press Association, Gurpreet Singh, brother of Jagtar and one of the leads of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign, said ‘This morning I found out from Twitter of all places that the most senior official at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald, is currently in Punjab, where my brother Jagtar Singh has been in custody without charge for nearly six months.’

Jagtar Singh, currently being held in Nabha prison, was approximately only 13 miles from the location of McDonald and Amarinder’s meeting, allegedly in Patiala. Despite this, it seems the Foreign Office delegation that went to meet Punjab officials did not raise the issue of Jagtar Singh’s detainment at all.

Gurpreet added, ‘I am outraged that the Foreign Office has sent its most senior official to Punjab behind my back, not to talk about a British citizen’s human rights, but about post-Brexit trade in Chandigarh. While at the residence of Captain Amrinder Singh in Patiala, Sir Simon was less than 15 miles from Nabha jail, where my brother languishes in custody without charge, without an independent medical examination, and without private consular access.’

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 17.09.19

Jagtar Singh’s local MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes of the Scottish National Party, also tweeted out his thoughts, stating he hoped ‘there was discussion on the case of Jagtar Singh Johal’, whilst also using the hashtag #transparency. Only last week Gurpreet Singh also highlighted the lack of transparency in what is actually being discussed between UK and Indian authorities in regards to his brother, after Prime Minister Theresa May told stated she discussed the Scotsman’s situation with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

‘For months, I have been petitioning the Foreign Office to intervene in his situation and secure his basic human rights. In this, they have failed. Is that why I was not told that the Head of Britain’s Diplomatic Service is visiting Punjab? That my family and I were not informed about this trip is an insult, and a clear sign that the British government does not care about one of its own citizens. While Sir Simon is busy tweeting pictures of himself having a good time in Punjab, my family and I are in agony. And it seems as if he doesn’t care.’

The lack of transparency as well as a perceived lack of action by the UK Government has only added to mistrust felt by supporters of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign, who were promised ‘extreme action’ by the Foreign Office in November 2017. This sentiment is also being echoed among many within the Sikh community, who feel the treatment of Sikhs and other minority communities in India, is overlooked in favour of trade relationships. Calls were even made by the National Sikh Youth Federation for Sikh orgs to boycott the upcoming central London Trafalgar Square Vaisakhi celebrations, until the UK government shows it’s support in challenging India’s human rights violations.
Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 17.13.00

‘This kind of thing will only add to the belief that Sikhs and anyone else looking to challenge the plethora of human rights abuses by the Indian state does not have the support of our own UK government in holding them to account. Nevertheless, we will remain steadfast in our campaign to highlight the mistreatment of Jagtar Singh by both Indian authorities and the British, as we continue to do all we can to bring him.’

NOTE – Since this story broke, Foreign Office secretary Sir Simon Mcdonald further upset the Sikh community by tweeting about the ‘golden mosque’ of Amritsar, in what was an obvious mistake in reference to Sri Darbar Sahib, often called the Golden Temple.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 18.51.45

gsss

London Gurdwara bidding to bring Sikh artefact back to the community

A Gurdwara in the Sikh stronghold of Southall will bid for an artefact of the last sovereign ruler of Punjab and the Sikh kingdom that goes on auction tomorrow.

The Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall has come together with stakeholders including activists, businessmen and community figures to acquire the earrings of Maharani Jind Kaur.

SGSS Letter jind kaur

The auctioning of them tomorrow at Bonhams in London represents the first opportunity in over 150 years to re-acquire such a rare artefact from Sikh history. They are expected to fetch between £20,000 and £30,000.

Maharani Jind Kaur was the wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruler of the Sikh empire, who led the Khalsa in two wars against the British and was subsequently imprisoned and exiled, before escaping to England to see her son Maharaja Duleep Singh.

It is hoped that the entire Sikh community shows solidarity with Sri Guru Singh Sabha’s bid tomorrow in acquiring the earrings for their preservation within the Sikh community and display for generations of Sikhs to come.

#FreeJaggiNow protestors

#FreeJaggiNow campaigners frustrated at lack of transparency over Indo-British bilateral discussions

Brother of Jagtar Singh says Modi-May ‘meeting has left me with more questions than answers, and my brother’s condition unchanged.’


The brother of Jagtar Singh Johal has expressed his frustration over the lack of transparency in reports of bilateral discussions of the detained Briton.

Gurpreet Singh, a lead of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign and brother of Jagtar Singh Johal, spoke to the Sikh Press Association about his frustration about the lack of clarity surrounding dialogue between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, who is currently visiting England. Jagtar Singh has been detained by Indian authorities for over 160 days without any charge.

The case of Jagtar Singh was raised in a meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday morning. Following the meeting a Downing Street spokesperson said:

‘The prime minister raised Mr Johal’s case with Prime Minister Modi this morning and the government will continue to make representations on his behalf until our concerns are addressed. Our High Commission staff in India have visited Mr Johal 10 times since his detention, most recently on 22 March, and the Foreign Office are in regular contact with his family.’

However, there was no reference to Jagtar Singh in a written parliamentary answer given by the Prime Minister to a question asking specifically about him. On Thursday, Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, asked whether
the Prime Minister ‘plans to discuss the case of Jagtar Singh Johal during her bilateral meeting with Narendra Modi, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting?’

In her reply, the Prime Minister referred Swinson to the Downing Street press release of the previous day’s bilateral meeting. This press release did not include any reference to Jagtar Singh, or to human rights violations in India. More than half of it was devoted to business, trade and investment between the two countries.

Gurpreet Singh, echoing the sentiments of #FreeJaggiNow campaigners, said, ‘The Downing Street spokesperson said the two leaders discussed my brother. But what was said? We have reason to believe he has been tortured; he has been denied private consular access and an independent medical examination. He has been presented in front of a judge more than 30 times and yet has still not been charged. How many of these concerns did Theresa May raise with Narendra Modi? I want to know.’

Referring to the Prime Minister’s parliamentary reply, he added, ‘Why is the Prime Minister reluctant to explicitly tell Parliament that she raised my brother’s case with the Indian Prime Minister? Does she fear parliamentary scrutiny? This meeting has left me with more questions than answers, and my brother’s condition unchanged.’

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 15.46.55

British Sikhs respond to UK apology for Indian flag removal at protest

British Sikhs are responding after the government issued a swift and full apology to the Government of India after an Indian flag was torn down during anti-Modi protests this week.

The apology came less than 48 hours after the flag was torn down in Parliament Square by individuals during a mass protest about the persecution of minorities in India under Modi’s right-wing Hindu Nationalist government on Wednesday (April 18). The protest saw hundreds of Sikhs, Kashmiris, Bengalis, Tamils and Dalits come together to demonstrate their angst at the Indian state.

The protest also included campaigners of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign who are protesting the detention of Jagtar Singh Johal, a Scottish citizen, who has been held for nearly six months without charge in India.

A statement by the Foreign Office said:

While people have the right to hold peaceful protests, we are disappointed with the action
taken by a small minority in Parliament Square and contacted High Commissioner
Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha as soon as we were made aware. The visit to the UK by Prime
Minister Modi has strengthened our relationship with India and we look forward to working
even more closely together on a number of important areas.

The Indian government issued a strong statement regarding the incident, with Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar saying:

We’re deeply anguished over the incident involving our national flag. The matter was taken
up strongly with the UK side. They have regretted the incident. The flag was immediately
replaced. We expect legal action against the people who were involved in this.

On Thursday, the Sikh Federation UK issued a statement asking:

Does the removal of the Indian flag in London matter more than the lives of millions of
innocent men, women and children belonging to minorities or lower castes in India who are
being killed, attacked and raped on a daily basis?

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 15.48.15
It added that by focusing on the flag, the Indian government had ‘completely missed the point’ of the protests which expressed outrage over the ‘intimidation, killings, atrocities and rape’ carried out by supporters of the Indian Prime Minister. ‘Surely Indian politicians are the ones disrespecting their positions, the country they represent, and their flag,’ the Sikh Federation statement ended.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 15.50.14

Other Sikhs in Britain have expressed outrage at the magnanimity of the British government over the incident compared to atrocities over which the British government has not issued an apology. The British government has not apologised for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, when British soldiers fired on unarmed civilians killing hundreds.

While on a visit to the site of the massacre in Amritsar during 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron stopped short of issuing a full apology, even though he acknowledged the ‘deeply shameful’ nature of the event.

The British government has also failed to apologise for its role in helping the Indian Army prepare for Operation Blue Star, the storming of Darbar Sahib (also in Amritsar) resulting in thousands of deaths and the desecration of the site. Far from apologising, since the revelation of this assistance in 2014, the government has taken every possible step to limit the impact of what was an inadvertent release of information.

A review by the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, commissioned by Cameron, was branded a ‘whitewash’ by Sacrificing Sikhs, a report commissioned by the Sikh Federation into the provision of British military advice.

An information tribunal is currently considering whether to grant a request for the declassification of UK government files that are thought to contain more information regarding the involvement of the British government in the preparations for the 1984
attack.

London Metropolitan Police told the Sikh Press Association regarding the flag incident:

Police are investigating after an Indian flag in Parliament Square was pulled down at 15:00hrs on Wednesday, 18 April. The flag has been replaced. 

There have been no arrests. Enquiries continue.

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 15.55.10

Concern about Indian media reaction to the removal of the flag was also prominent on Twitter, especially about it being linked to support for Pakistan (most notable in a tweet from famed Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai to his 8.46million followers) which is seen as an attempt to further malign the minority communities involved in protesting against Modi in the UK.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 15.54.12

SSLE Logo

East London Gurdwara announce UK’s first full-time English speaking educator

In what is being labelled a ‘historic’ event, the committee of East London’s biggest Gurdwaras have announced what is believed to be the first paid, full-time employed parcharak (educator) both English born and speaking, to be hired by a Gurdwara.

See a statement below from Singh Sabha London East to learn more.


SSLE Statement

 

Waheguru Ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji ki Fateh

It is with immense pleasure that Singh Sabha London East (SSLE) Gurdwara committee announce that we have taken on a paid full-time English speaking parcharak (educator).

This is a historic event. Other Gurdwaras will follow, and we encourage them to do so. We, the Sadh Sangat (holy congregation) of East London are proud to lead the way on this initiative.

Committees have been criticised for making buildings but no investment in the Youth. SSLE are committed to both. We will have a state of the art new building and a recognised English speaking parcharak who is able to communicate the Guru’s teachings in English.

The youth want to understand Sikhi and with the Guru’s blessings they will now find this easier and more engaging than ever in East London. The Parcharak will do regular youth camps and talks at youth events, like the weekly fitness class which has around 40 students every Sunday.

Our Parcharak will do school talks in the Gurdwara and travel to schools, educating children about Sikhi. Crucially, he will also visit schools where Sikh children are being bullied, to educate the children and teachers about Sikhi.

He will deliver university talks to stop youth being led astray from Sikhi, educating students about our beautiful Dharam (faith). He will be available to do English tasks at all weddings and programmes in the Gurdwara. This will make the whole experience more meaningful for non-Punjabi speaking guests and youth.

So who is he? We are very proud to introduce Saroop Singh.

Saroop is a former attendee of the respected and established academy established under Basics of Sikhi. He spent six months under direct tutelage of Jagraj Singh and other respected Gursikhs learning the deeper aspects of Gurbani (Sikh scripture), Sikh philosophy and Sikh history. He has delivered many lectures and kathas (sermons) in English, inspiring Sikhs across the world.

We are proud to have him on board at SSLE and invite all sangat near and far to come and take the Guru’s blessings.

We repeat, this is a historic moment and we invite all Gurdware to follow suit.

Waheguru Ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji ki Fateh

Sikh motorcycle helmet pic

Sikh educational org welcome Alberta ‘recognising the significance of the dastaar’

Basics of Sikhi Canada, a global Sikh educational organisation, have welcomed a decision that will allow turbaned Sikhs to ride a motorcycle without a helmet in the Canadian state of Alberta from April 12.

Harman Singh, educator at Basics of Sikhi, said: ‘I am pleased that Alberta has followed other states in recognising the significance of the dastaar (Sikh turban). The dastaar is our crown, making it totally incompatible with wearing a helmet.’

Basics of Sikhi are a world renowned Sikh organisation that are most known for running an educational youtube channel. The organisation’s educators also do talks across the globe, explaining Sikh scripture, philosophy and practices.

The provincial transportation minister Brian Mason issued an order that amended the Traffic Safety Act following 30 years of the Sikh community in Alberta requesting such a change. He said: ‘We think that the number of people who will be wearing a turban and not a helmet is going to be very small […] so we decided on the balance that this was the right thing to do.’

Alberta now joins Manitoba and B.C in exempting turbaned Sikhs from the helmet requirement.

For more information or quotes from Basics of Sikhi, email Media@SikhPA.com.

Turban Awareness Day - pic 2

MPs show solidarity with Sikhs at Turban Awareneness Day

MPs came together at Portcullis House yesterday as part of an event organised by Sikh Channel to increase awareness of the dastaar (Sikh turban).

The event saw dozens of MPs coming to have a dastaar tied on them, through which they learnt about the significance and the role it plays in Sikh identity. The event was broadcast live on Sikh Channel, with footage also featuring on BBC and London Live news.

This Turban Awareness Day was organised following a racist hate attack on 21st February, when somebody attempted to rip the turban off Ravneet Singh, a visitor to Parliament.

Kam Singh from the Sikh Channel, who organised the event, said: ‘It was sad & shocking to see this sort of hate incident take place directly outside the heart of British democracy. Through this event we have taken a step to unite all against race hate and have educated lawmakers & others on the significance of the dastaar, and the contribution that Sikhs have made and continue to make to this country.’

Turban Awareness Day - Stuart Macdonald SNP

The event was attended by several prominent MPs and ministers.

Harriet Baldwin, a Foreign Office Minister, said: ‘I’m just here to celebrate the great contribution that our Sikh communities make up and down the whole of the UK […] I am honoured to be here, and it’s a privilege to welcome so many people into Parliament today […] let’s hope we have many more members of Parliament from the Sikh community in the future.’

James Cleverly, Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party said: ‘This is such a brilliant idea!’ He added: ‘I hope that events like this demonstrate to the Sikh community, and indeed, to all minority groups in the UK, that they are welcome, that they are part of our society, and that they have every right to fully engage with the political process, the parliamentary process, whatever it might be.’

Turban Awareness Day - Lola reporter turban tied

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the country’s first turbaned MP, called it a ‘magnificent’ event, saying that he was embarrassed by the attack on his guest Ravneet Singh last month. He said: ‘The Sikhs are very, very proud of that distinct identity. These events should hopefully make the turban more relevant to British society and to make them more aware how important it is to the Sikh community […] It is an indictment that in 2018, especially in Britain – we’re in one of the most multicultural and advanced nations on earth.’ He also said that he hoped the pictures of various MPs wearing turbans would filter through social media to their constituents, increasing the awareness of the turban and making it more acceptable in society.

The UK’s first female Sikh MP, Preet Kaur Gill, said at the event: ‘Today is about learning to respect the turban because not many people know about it, and given the event that took place outside of Parliament, this is wonderful to see the Sikh community come to Parliament and to engage with members of Parliament so that they can understand some of the issues that they face on a daily basis.’

The event also helped MPs learn about the dastaar itself including the material and process of tying it. Stuart McDonald, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said that he was ‘quite amazed at the length of material’ needed for a dastaar.

Rachael Maclean Turban Awareness Day

Sukhdeep Singh, educator at Basics of Sikhi, said: ‘It was great to be in the Houses of Parliament today raising awareness about the dastaar. Sikh Channel have provided this much-needed opportunity to raise awareness about the significance of the dastaar to MPs, many of whom did not know much about it beforehand.’

French-Turban-Ban

Sikh MP ‘disappointed’ with UK government refusal to support French Sikhs

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the UK’s first turbaned Sikh MP, is ‘disappointed’ with a reply from the government about discrimination against turbaned Sikhs in France.

Last week, the Representative Council of French Sikhs (Conseil Représentatif des Sikhs de France) made a global appeal for support to change a regulation in France that bans Sikhs from wearing turbans in official ID photographs.

Following this, Tan Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough, submitted a written parliamentary question to the Foreign Secretary, asking about any recent discussions of this with his French counterpart.

Replying on behalf of Foreign Office on March 16th, minister Sir Alan Duncan said: ‘I have had no recent discussions with my French counterpart on this issue, which is a matter for the French government.’

Tanmanjeet stated he was ‘disappointed’ with the response via his facebook page. This is not the first time that Tanmanjeet Singh has raised the human rights of turbaned Sikhs in France. During his maiden speech in July last year he said:

‘​I find it extremely disappointing and incredibly ironic that more than 80,000 turbaned Sikh soldiers died—yes, died; not injured—laid down their lives to liberate the very country (France) where their descendants cannot even have their ID photos taken without having to remove their turbans.’

Sikhs across Europe will undoubtedly be concerned that the refusal of the Foreign Office to take-up this issue is another sign that western governments pay no heed to community concerns. The Representative Council of French Sikhs will continue to lobby regarding this issue.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 15.07.07

British Govt ‘does not have a legal duty of care’ for Jagtar Singh – Parliamentary debate summary

A parliamentary debate called by Sikh MP Preet Kaur Gill forced the Foreign Office to confront specific concerns raised by several MPs over the condition of a detained Briton in India.

Jagtar Singh Johal, a British citizen from West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, has been detained in India for the past 131 days (accurate from date 14.03.18) without charge. In that time, he has been tortured and been refused both an independent medical examination and private access to British consular staff.

 

Yesterday, Britain’s first female Sikh MP Preet Kaur Gill, called a debate on the Britons imprisoned abroad which focused on the case of Jagtar Singh. Opening the debate, she raised five specific concerns with the government regarding his case:

  1. ‘Why it is that the Indian authorities prevented him from having private access, and what actions they [the British government] have taken in the last 130 days to address this unacceptable state of affairs?’
  2. The steps taken to secure an independent medical examination and any necessary medical treatment following the allegations of torture.’
  3. ‘is it the case that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have complained to the Indian authorities that Jagtar is facing trial by media and that this will mean that if Jagtar is charged, he will never get a fair trial?’
  4. ‘Will the Foreign Secretary meet the family of Jagtar, who are concerned with the priority being given to this case?’
  5. ‘Will the Prime Minister raise Jagtar’s case with Narendra Modi when she meets him next month in London given she spoke to the BBC and showed interest in Jagtar’s case within days of his abduction and torture?’

 

Slough’s Sikh MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi was critical of the Foreign Office in his speech. He said: ‘Such cases highlight the continued failures by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in handling [Jagtar Singh’s] case, and raising the important issues of his welfare with the relevant authorities, the UK government’s failure to condemn the series of abuses has left all British citizens travelling abroad vulnerable. And I implore upon the honourable minister to act now and press for further access to Mr Johal so he can receive the necessary support that he is entitled to as a British citizen.’

Labour MP Afzal Khan made a similar point that many of his constituents visit India and are concerned for their safety following the case of Jagtar Singh: ‘They want to make sure that proper protection is available,’ which he said was grounds for the government to assign a higher priority to this case.

 

Foreign Office minister Mark Field responded on behalf of the government, explaining that the usual minister with departmental responsibility for this area (Harriett Baldwin) was before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

He struck a cautious tone for the duration of his remarks, opening with the warning that ‘contrary to a common misconception, the government does not have a legal duty of care for British nationals abroad.’  This particular statement raised eyebrows and prompted tweets of concern from the Sikh community.
Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 14.58.28

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 15.03.44

Mark Field went on to emphasise the responsibility of the traveller, saying that ‘rightly, the FCO expects and advises individuals to take sensible steps before they travel,’ including having sufficient travel insurance and reading the Foreign Office travel advice, neither of which applied to Jagtar Singh’s case.  

Furthermore, he added: ‘We do not, and must not, as it has been pointed out, interfere in the civil or criminal court proceedings. It is right that we do respect the legal systems of other countries, just as we expect foreign nationals to respect our laws and legal processes when they’re here in the UK.’

Addressing the fact that Jagtar Singh had been denied private consular access, Mark Field replied: ‘It is a matter of great frustration I have to say. We did request private consular access frequently with Mr Johal [when he] was first detained. However, he has since been moved, as the honourable lady will know, to the Nabha prison, a maximum security jail, where private visits are not permitted for security reasons.’ Yet, as Preet Gill noted earlier in the debate, Jagtar Singh has been transferred back and forth between police and judicial custody, so only a portion of his 130-day detention has been at Nabha jail.

Speaking about torture allegations, the minister replied: ‘If a British national tells us they’ve been mistreated or tortured, with their permission, our consular staff will do its best to raise concerns with the authorities and to seek an investigation.’  However, the lack of private consular access to Jagtar Singh means that he has not been able to tell the Foreign Office directly of his torture without the Indian authorise being aware of this.

No specific reply was given by the minister regarding the government’s efforts to secure an independent medical examination of Jagtar Singh. The minister only said that the government’s priority ‘is always the welfare of UK nationals, to ensure they are receiving food, water and medical treatment as required.’

Nor was the issue of trial by media addressed. In fact, the minister said he thought ‘it is important to put on the record that India, as a partner in the Commonwealth but also as a partner in many other ways, has a strong democratic framework which is designed to guarantee human rights,’ despite concerns raised by Preet Gill that footage of Jagtar Singh in custody had been leaked to Indian media.

Jagtar Singh confession image

Footage of Jagtar Singh being interrogated whilst detained in India was leaked to Indian media.

The minister did not say whether the Foreign Secretary would meet with the family of Jagtar Singh, but did note that he has met Jagtar’s brother Gurpreet twice in the past six months.

When pressed later in the debate on whether the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary would raise the case of Jagtar Singh with Narendra Modi, the minister cautiously replied ‘I will try to ensure that is done […] these things often have to be done, and are righty done, on a private basis, rather than through megaphone diplomacy.’ He also said that he would write directly to MPs about the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which Jagtar Singh’s constituency MP Martin Docherty-Hughes called a ‘‘prime opportunity for the government to tackle head on the Indian government in terms of claims of torture against my constituent.’ Mark Field also told the debate that he would write to MPs directly regarding the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

He did seek to reassure the House that the government was taking the matter seriously, saying that ‘various officials in our High Commission have continued to raise concerns at the highest level, and there are some very major concerns as a number of members have pointed out. As I say, most recently our High Commissioner spoke to the Indian Foreign Secretary as recently as 7th March.’ The basis of that conversation was relayed to Martin Docherty Hughes yesterday morning. The minister further added: ‘We shall, I can assure the House, continue to raise this case at senior levels with the Indian authorities until the allegations raised by Mr Johal – the most serious allegations – have been properly investigated.’

 

A video of the entire debate can be found here. For more information and Sikh community reaction, email Media@SikhPA.com.