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India ignores British MPs’ call for release of ‘Khalistan operative’

NewsIndia ignores British MPs’ call for release of ‘Khalistan operative’

NEW DELHI: Since 4 November 2017, when Jagtar Singh Johal, a British citizen, was arrested by the Indian agencies for being an alleged operative of the banned Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF), British Members of Parliament, across the House of Commons and Lords, have raised questions about his well-being a staggering 63 times in both Houses.
As per a recent statement issued by British ministers in Parliament, British officials have raised the issue of Johal with Indian Prime Minister, India’s Minister of External Affairs and other Indian officials at more than “100 occasions”; with both the present PM, Rishi Sunak, his predecessors Liz Truss, Boris Johnson and Theresa May taking up the case of Johal with the Indian PM and officials. In 2022 and 2021, the members participated in three parliamentary debates that were dedicated to Johal.
However, this intense, regular intervention from British MPs has not achieved the desired result of bringing the Government of India under some sort of a diplomatic pressure and arranging for the release of the 35-year-old Johal. Johal is currently lodged in Tihar prison, Delhi, and is being probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has booked him and others for their alleged role in the targeted killing of prominent people in society in and around Punjab in 2015, 2016 and 2017. As per the NIA, the conspiracy was a plot, which was brought into existence by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The most recent question about Johal was raised by Preet Kaur Gill, a Labour Party Commons MP, from Birmingham, Edgbaston, who is also the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, on 10 January when she asked what the Foreign Minister was doing to seek the release of Johal. In her response, Anne Marie Trevelyan, who is the Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), said, “The Government has consistently raised Mr Johal’s case with the Government of India, and is committed to doing what it can to assist him. The Foreign Secretary discussed Mr Johal’s case with the Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in Delhi on 29 October, and Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister for South Asia, raised the case with the Indian High Commissioner to the UK on 13 December.”
Similarly, on 24 November, a minister in the Sunak government told Parliament that the British Foreign Secretary has discussed Johal’s case with the Indian External Affairs Minister in Delhi on 29 October, while adding that the previous Foreign Secretary, too, had raised Johal’s case with India’s Foreign Minister Dr Jaishankar during her visits to India on 31 March 2022 and 22 October 2021.
The UK Parliament was also apprised of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson raising Johal’s case with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Delhi on 22 April. In all, British ministers and officials have raised Johal’s case on almost 100 occasions with their Indian counterparts over the last five years.
Interestingly, while many UK politicians and elected members are speaking out in support of Johal’s release, which has been attributed to domestic political reasons, the input about Johal being a part of the KLF was developed and shared with Indian agencies by two British intelligence agencies, MI5 and Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6, which, Indian officials say, shows the deep link between him and the terror group.
Jaspal Singh Manjhur, the lawyer of Johal, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said that Johal’s case would come up for hearing in March. “After five years, the charges have been framed. The cases will be heard on 10 March and 17 March at the NIA Special Court, Patiala House Court. He is facing charges in a total of 8 cases filed by NIA and one by Punjab police which is related to his initial arrest. In one case, he has been discharged; in one case, he has been granted bail by the High Court, which has been challenged by the NIA,” Manjhur said.
Jaggi has been named as an accused in seven cases, five of those being murder charges (targeted killings) and two being attempted murder charges. Among those who were allegedly targeted by him and his associates included members of right-wing Hindu outfits, Dera Sirsa followers, and Christian activists.
According to Johal’s lawyer, the entire case of NIA is dependent on two things—a supposed confessional statement made by Johal and the statements of “two protected” witnesses whose identities have not been disclosed by the NIA till now. “NIA alleges that Johal was part of a conspiracy that includes arranging funds and procuring weapons to carry out killings. He was in the UK at the time when the NIA said he was conspiring. If he was a part of any such conspiracy, why would he come back to India to face arrest? Two protected witnesses have deposed against him and brought out offences against him, and it is on the basis of their statements that the NIA has accused him and arrested him. We don’t know who these two witnesses are; once the matter comes up for hearing, we will get some clarity. One of them is likely from the UK and it is likely related to an alleged communication that took place between Johal and the NIA witness at Trafalgar Square, London, about the supposed terror plot. NIA is saying he is a member of KLF, but so far, they have presented no proof, no link, no money trail to substantiate what they are claiming. They say he delivered 3,000 pounds in 2013-14 for a terror operation, but no proof has been presented to prove this. They are saying that he was interacting with the self-styled chief of the Khalistan Liberation Force, Harminder Mintoo, who was arrested in November 2014 by Indian agencies and passed away in April 2018 while still being in prison. How could Johal conspire in 2015, 2016, and 2017 with Mintoo when Mintoo was in an Indian prison? NIA is quoting Mintoo’s confession to establish a link between Johal and Mintoo,” Jaspal Singh Manjhur alleged.
However, officials aware of the case said that they have sufficient evidence to prove the 35-year-old Johal’s active and long-tanding association with KLF which would come up for judicial scrutiny once the case reaches the trial stage. “His arrest was a part of an international operation in which there are several guidelines that need to be followed at multiple levels. There is no doubt that the people supporting him are carrying out a focused movement to get him released through social media campaigns and political and diplomatic interventions, but these external factors will have no impact on the decision of the case that will be decided by the courts on merit,” a senior official with a government agency said.

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