Boris Johnson accused of intelligence tipoff that led to British Sikh’s alleged torture in India

Labour raises questions in the Commons over Johnson’s alleged actions as foreign secretary in the case of activist Jagtar Singh Johal

Labour has accused Boris Johnson of authorising the sharing of intelligence that led to the imprisonment and alleged torture of a UK-based Sikh activist in India.

A Foreign Office minister refused to confirm or deny Johnson’s alleged involvement – during his time as foreign secretary – in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been detained for five years without trial.

The minister, Rehman Chishti, also declined to say whether UK security services passed on information that led to the kidnap of Johal, who is accused of conspiracy to murder and being part of a terrorist gang.

Lawyers for Johal, from Dumbarton in Scotland, say he was tortured, including being given electric shocks, after his unlawful arrest in the Punjab in 2017.

The campaign group Reprieve, which is representing him, disclosed last month that it had uncovered documents that are before the high court suggesting MI5 and MI6 tipped off the Indian authorities about Johal.

The alleged roles of Johnson, MI5 and MI6 were raised on the floor of the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Catherine West, a shadow foreign minister, said: “The allegations in recent weeks of the potential collusion of the British intelligence service in the arbitrary detention of Mr Johal are deeply worrying. The house will expect the minister to be clear on whether the former prime minister [Johnson], under whose watch this occurred, we believe, authorised sharing this intelligence with the Indian government when he was the foreign secretary.”

Last month Johal’s lawyers lodged a claim against the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the attorney general.

Chishti said he would not comment because of the ongoing high court case. He said: “I think it’s absolutely important when such an accusation is made that it is fully, thoroughly investigated and looked at. And that will be done by the high court.”

The Conservative former minister David Davis called on the government to review its policy towards torture and its complicity in the practice.

“The allegation is that the British government was complicit in provision of information to the Indian government, knowing that it might be used for torture and in a capital case,” he said. “The point here is that this is not the first time this has happened.”

Chishti replied: “There is a procedure and process that those allegations have to go through to be looked at, and they are going through the high court at this point in time.”

Martin Docherty-Hughes, Johal’s MP in West Dunbartonshire, said claims regarding the UK government’s involvement “posed a multitude of hard questions” for the new prime minister, Liz Truss, given she was formerly foreign secretary.

“Like hundreds of thousands of UK citizens of Sikh ethnicity, the Singh Johal family travel to India every year, yet now they must wonder if it’s safe for them to continue to do so,” he said.

Johal, 35, is accused by the Indian government of being part of a terrorist plot to murder prominent rightwing religious figures in the spring of 2017. His family say he has been targeted because of his political activism in documenting the persecution of Sikhs in the Punjab in 1984.

Earlier this year the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Johal’s arrest was motivated by his Sikh faith and that he should be released immediately.

On Wednesday Johal released a handwritten note calling on Truss to show “more guts” than her predecessors as PM and put pressure on the Indian government to release UK citizens held without trial.

“I hope you show more guts than your predecessors when it comes to addressing the issue of UK citizens languishing in Indian prisons for years without trial,” he wrote.

• This article was amended on 8 September 2022. An earlier version referred to the constituency of “West Dumbartonshire”. The seat’s name is in fact West Dunbartonshire, though its largest town is Dumbarton.


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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