The arrest of a British national by the Madhya Pradesh Police on charges of alleged visa violations was taken up by Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha who asked Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to look into it as the family of the accused has denied the charges.
Sohail Hughes was produced before a court in Bhopal on May 15 after the police registered a case of alleged visa violation and claimed that the UK national was a member of the Tablighi Jamaat.
"The police filed an FIR against Hughes for violating visa conditions. He had come to India on a tourist visa but attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi's Nizamuddin, thus violating the visa conditions," Additional Director General of Madhya Pradesh Police Upendra Jain said.
He was produced before a court in Bhopal which remanded him to judicial custody till May 29.
"As many as 32 Tablighi Jamaat participants, including seven foreigners (Hughes being one of them), were detained from different mosques in Bhopal city," Jain said.
A large congregation was organised in March by the Tablighi Jamaat in the Nizamuddin area of the national capital. Immediately after the lockdown was announced, many of its members staying at the headquarters of the outfit had tested positive for COVID-19.
The development prompted the Union Home Ministry to ask police chiefs of all states and Union territories to take legal action against foreigners who had attended the congregation in violation of the Foreigners Act.
The issue was taken up by Rajya Sabha MP Tankha with the Madhya Pradesh chief minister. Tankha wrote to Chauhan to immediately withdraw the "unjustified prosecution" of Hughes and get him discharged from the court proceedings.
Citing an article in a prominent UK daily, Tankha said that the "case is a blot on our criminal investigation and criminal justice system. It shows total non-application of mind in keeping innocent persons in jail. The state has bad publicity internationally."
"In the interest of justice and international comity, I petition the Madhya Pradesh Government to immediately withdraw the unjustified prosecution of Sohail, to get him discharged from court proceedings and to permit him to travel back to UK," the letter said.
He cited the report which quoted Hughes's sister as saying that her brother was forced to take refuge in a mosque in Bhopal, the city he was visiting, but was held up because of the sudden lockdown, which gave no time to foreign nationals to leave India.
It also quoted her as saying that her brother's passport was seized and he was placed under quarantine.
Bhopal Zone I Additional Superintendent of Police Rajat Saklecha said the accused had broken lockdown norms. "He was in the country on a tourist visa and doing missionary work. He disobeyed lockdown norms in place to stop the outbreak. The family can put its side in court."
"While in quarantine, Hughes had been repeatedly tested for COVID-19 and his test reports were always negative," Tankha said, quoting the media report.
Hughes is lodged in the Old Central Jail in Bhopal and his application for bail has been rejected by the court, it said.