A Delhi court on Friday stayed a magistrate’s order that had directed the CBI to withdraw a lookout circular against Amnesty International India chairman Aakar Patel, and asked him not to leave the country without its permission.
Hearing a revision application from the central agency, special CBI judge Santosh Snehi Mann also stayed additional chief metropolitan magistrate (ACMM) Pawan Kumar’s nudge to the CBI director to offer a “written apology” to Patel. The next hearing is on April 12, by when Patel can file his reply.
Mann’s Friday afternoon order came after midnight drama at Bangalore airport when, despite the then valid magistrate’s order allowing Patel to leave the country, the Amnesty official was prevented from boarding his international flight.
The airport ordeal — his second in two days — prompted Patel’s lawyers to move a contempt petition with the ACMM’s court in Delhi on Friday morning. Around the same time, the CBI approached Mann’s court against Kumar’s order.
Patel’s counsel said the contempt plea was unlikely to be heard before the special CBI court had decided on the agency’s revision application.
Mann said on Friday: “In the meantime (till the next hearing), it is necessary that the cause is not frustrated. During the course of arguments, it was pointed out by Nikhil Goel (CBI advocate) that respondent (Patel) made an attempt to leave the country yesterday.”
Patel, who was scheduled to speak at several US universities from April 9 before returning on May 10, said he could only wait for April 12. “I’m hopeful of a favourable ruling,” he said.
Hours earlier, Patel had had a shock when he arrived at Bangalore airport to catch a 12.30am Thai Airways flight to Bangkok en route to Dallas. He was stopped by immigration officials who said they could not contact the CBI to get a clarification on Thursday’s magistrate order.
“The immigration officials said they kept trying (to contact) the CBI (officials) but their phones were switched off,” Patel told The Telegraph on Friday.
On Wednesday morning, Patel had been prevented from taking a 6.50am British Airways flight to London en route to the US. That was the first time he says he learnt about the lookout circular, related to alleged foreign exchange violations.
Agencies are expected to inform people against whom they issue lookout circulars.
On Thursday, the magistrate’s court had said the circular against Patel was a “deliberate act… to put restriction on (his) valuable rights”, suggested that “accountability of the concerned officials in this case be fixed”, and sought a compliance report by 4pm on Friday. It had allowed Patel “to approach the appropriate forum for the compensation for the loss caused to him”.
Patel had on Thursday told The Wire he had found out that the circular — connected to the November 2019 raids on Amnesty offices in Bangalore and Delhi — had been issued only on December 31 last year.
He had emphasised that this was just six weeks after the November 14 launch of his book, Price of the Modi Years, a critical account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule. Patel had said the chronology suggested “malice” behind the circular.
Patel, whose missed flight on Wednesday cost him Rs 3.8 lakh in airfares, on Friday said he didn’t even want to be reminded about how much money he had lost in the second attempt.
“I am really embarrassed to say how much. It’s a lot of money,” he said.
Patel’s contempt application said his counsel Tanveer Ahmed Mir had on Thursday informed the CBI investigating officer in the court that his client intended to take a 12.30am flight out of the country.
The application said the magistrate had verbally told the CBI to extend full cooperation.
Yet, Patel’s application said, the investigating officer had kept his mobile phone switched off instead of being available to facilitate compliance of the order.
This, the application said, “speaks volumes about the respondent agency in bulldozing the valuable fundamental rights of the applicant”.
“(The CBI) has acted with a clear intention to harass the applicant and suffocate his fundamental rights,” it added.