Feature: UK Govt tells Christian Michel it takes report of his arbitrary detention ‘very seriously’

Ashis Ray

The British government is unhappy at the “arbitrary detention” of one of its nationals, Christian Michel, in Delhi for 33 months without a trial. It will, from indications, persist in diplomatically drawing the attention of the Narendra Modi government to the alleged violation of human rights, international law and India’s commitment to United Nations conventions.

Earlier this year, Michel had written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatening to go on a hunger strike if the latter did not intervene.

In connection with the communication to Johnson, Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK’s minister of state for South Asia and the Commonwealth, replied to Michel. “I can assure you that the UK government will continue to raise your case, including our concerns over the length of your pre-trial detention, and request the swift and fair resolution of judicial proceedings against you,” wrote Ahmad on August 2, 2021.

The UK minister informed Michel that he had raised the matter with the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla on July 23 and with the Indian high commissioner to the UK Gaitri Kumar on June 8. He further disclosed that British foreign secretary Dominic Raab had brought the matter up with Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar on May 6.

Ahmad explained to Michel, “The Global Human Rights Sanctions regime provides powers to impose designations for serious human rights abuses and violations around the world.” He went on to say, “Sanctions are one response among a number of diplomatic tools that can be used to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses around the world.”

In November last year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) reached the conclusion that Michel was being arbitrarily detained – an offence generally not committed in democratic countries. Ahmad informed Michel: “We take these findings seriously and will raise the concerns we have regarding your detention privately with the Government of India.” He emphasised, “It rests with the Government of India to resolve your case through the judicial process”.

Quite unusually, the British supported Michel’s last bail application by submitting a petition to the CBI judge, pointing out ill-health brought about by his prolonged and allegedly inhuman incarceration. But the application was refused. Michel’s Indian lawyer Aljo Joseph has, however, appealed to the Delhi high court to review the matter.

The UN Human Rights Council, in the meanwhile, is considering its course of action following the expiry of the six-month deadline given to the Modi regime to act on the WGAD’s directive in November last year to release Michel immediately and compensate him for the ill-treatment meted out.

In a copious 10-page hand-written letter to Johnson, Michel alleged: “In 2017 (Narendra) Modi the prime minister of India invited (President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi) Sheikh Al Nahyan to be guest of honour at India’s Republic Day 26 Jan. To Sheikh Al Nahyan’s surprise Modi asked the Sheikh to arrest me from Dubai in the UAE & send me to India. The Sheikh agreed but under the Indo/UAE extradition treaty. Modi thought he could send a plane in one week. However the treaty stipulates that the request for extradition must contain such evidence which would lead to a conviction in the UAE, if tried in the UAE.”

He continued: “I was arrested, released on bail. The India government were given 30 days to produce evidence. Then 60 days. After 90 days the UAE prosecutor rejected the Indian request due to ‘lack of seriousness’. A huge insult to the Indian government….. The Indian request was without any merit. Even the requesting authority was wrong & the section on evidence was just missing. Modi had not understood that Sheikh Al Nahyan expected him to obey the law. So my lawyer & I established that I could not be legally extradited to India.”

He narrated: “In April 2018 I was warned by the Dubai prosecutor that a deal had been done with India to exchange me (in lieu of the Dubai ruler’s daughter Princess Latifa, who had run away to seek asylum in India, being captured by Indian forces in the Arabian Sea and returned to her father) and I should go back to the UK. I had my passport & I should (have) run. But I was done running from Modi. If they were going to rendition me so be it.” Both the London high court and WGAD have upheld this version of events.

Then he described: “In mid-May (2018) I & my lawyers were called to meet with a delegation of UAE officials led by Colonel Waleed of the Dubai CID & Rakesh Asthana special director CBI India (whose recent controversial appointment as Delhi police commissioner has been challenged in court). Over three separate meetings over two weeks in front of & with the UAE officials’ support and blessings & in front of my lawyers, openly without any concern for UAE, international law or my human rights, (Asthana) said that unless I implicate Sonia Gandhi, her son & the senior opposition leader Ahmed Patel in corruption, I would be taken to India (renditioned) & put in jail for a long time without bail. They said no one will save you & mentioned some names & said a deal has been done. It was made clear to my lawyers & I that I was to be swapped for Latifa. My lawyers were shocked. If I agreed, I would be made a witness & would not have to go to India.”

He proceeded to write: “My Dubai lawyers despite the risk put up a powerful defence pointing out embarrassingly to all that the Indian extradition request was the exact same document sent in 2017 & rejected for lack of seriousness.” Then: “On 4 December I was taken out of my police cell (in Dubai) handcuffed, blindfolded & pushed on to a private jet. There was no paperwork, I was not told where I was going & the blindfold was not taken off till I was in an office in Delhi Airport.”

About his ordeal at Tihar Jail, he told Johnson: “As it turned out my inmate was not a reformed person. He got involved in a plot to kill me which failed.” He also maintained: “Due to the heat and lack of water I got three kidney stones. I got e-coli from the water when I caught Covid 19.” He complained: “When I applied for interim bail to the high court & the supreme court to avoid Covid 19 in jail, in the judgement it states that “foreign nationals will not be considered for interim bail under any criteria”.

He accusingly asked Johnson: “I assume that my public disavowment (referring to a statement by the British high commissioner to India Alex Ellis) was a message for Modi & (a) trade deal?”

He pleaded with the British prime minister to “think on this most carefully”. He then gave an ultimatum: “I cannot sir (stay) in this jail (any) longer. One way or the other I am going to leave.” He charged Modi of turning India into a “mobocracy”.

He copied the letter to among others the UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet.

The Indian ministry of external affairs’ spokesman was requested to comment on the correspondence. There has been no response till the time of filing this report. Courtesy The Wire

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