Amnesty International India chairman Aakar Patel was stopped at Bangalore airport from flying abroad on Wednesday morning because of a CBI lookout circular whose existence he says had never been communicated to him.
Patel, whose latest book Price of the Modi Years paints a grim picture, was to catch a 6.50am British Airways flight to London en route to the US where he is scheduled to speak at three universities.
“Initially I presumed it was about the case filed against me by a BJP MLA in Surat, after which I had secured a court order to travel,” Patel told The Telegraph.
“But when I showed them (the immigration desk) the court order, I was told that the travel restriction was over a CBI lookout circular against me.”
The CBI case had been registered after it raided Amnesty offices in Bangalore and Delhi in November 2019 over alleged foreign exchange violations.
“I am named in that case, being the head of the organisation (in India),” Patel said.
Journalist and author Rana Ayyub, a staunch critic of the Narendra Modi government, too was recently stopped at Mumbai airport from flying abroad on the basis of a lookout notice issued by the Enforcement Directorate. Delhi High Court subsequently allowed her to travel abroad.
Patel plans to move court “very soon” but is unsure which court to approach since he does not know from which state the CBI had issued the lookout circular.
He said the CBI had not informed him about the existence of the lookout circular even the last time it had summoned him, in December 2020.
Patel said: “I have not been told I am on the lookout circular. I was last summoned by the CBI a year and four months ago, but haven’t heard from them since.”
“I shall be moving court to quash the circular since there is a law that says you have to issue a notice to those named in such lookout circulars.”
Patel was scheduled to speak at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of California, Berkely; and the University of New York from April 8. He was scheduled to return on May 10, well ahead of the May 30 deadline set by the Surat court that allowed him to travel.
Patel’s passport had been impounded after a BJP legislator filed a case accusing him of promoting enmity between different groups and committing malicious acts to outrage religious feelings, citing a tweet Patel had posted.
The CBI raid on Amnesty was followed by a freeze on its bank accounts. The human rights agency still has an office in Bangalore but has been unable to pay the rent, and has petitioned the Supreme Court against the freeze.