Christian Michel and Safoora Zargar were arbitrarily detained by Indian authorities: UN report

Safoora Zargar (left) and Christian Michel.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on Tuesday submitted its report citing that Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal, and Jamia Millia University student Safoora Zargar were arbitrarily detained by Indian authorities.

The WGAD, which operates under the UN high commissioner for human rights, mentions how Christian Michel’s life is at risk due to Covid-19 outbreak as the Government of India is not working towards his release.

Christian Michel was extradited to India in December 2018 from UAE, in connection to the alleged Augusta Westland Chopper scam.

On the other hand, Safoora Zargar was arrested by Delhi Police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. She was pregnant when Delhi police arrested her in April 2020 over the Citizenship law protests and the Delhi riots. During the course of trial it was alleged that she made an inflammatory speech on February 23 that led to violence and rioting in North East Delhi over the next days, which resulted in the death of 53 people and left several others injured.

The criticism for the Indian government comes from United Nations Human Rights Council in its ‘Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’.

Apart from its opinions on Christian Michel and Safoora Zargar, the report also mentions 90 other opinions on various other matters.

The report mentions that while the detention of Christian Michel has been arbitrary under category 1, the detention of Safoora Zargar was found to be arbitrary under categories 1, 2 and 5.

The references made in the report suggest how transfer of individuals (Christian Michel) involved various allegations, including extradition proceedings which have either been protracted and not fully completed.

“During the reporting period, the Working Group noted a pattern in cases brought under the regular communications procedure as well as under the urgent communications procedure involving attempts to forcibly remove, extradite or deport an individual from one State to another, effectively circumventing the extradition process required by the rule of law and safeguards against arbitrary detention,” another point of reference to Christian Michel’s case in the report.

In the matter pertaining to Christian Michel, the report also alleges that questions come to fore where in the victims, “…have been subjected to extensive interrogations and forced to sign documents…”

The report further adds, that, “In other cases, the extradition requests have been approved by the extraditing State as a de facto swap or the capture and return to that State of a high-profile detainee.”

The Working Group further observes the denial of consular assistance in such cases, and, noting the limited availability of remedies for individuals in the international sphere, recalls that consular protection is invaluable for foreign nationals who are disadvantaged by their lack of familiarity with local laws, customs and languages, says the report with respect to Christian Michel.

Meanwhile, in the case of Safoora Zargar, the report says that the detention was arbitrary in atleast three categories and further goes on to make a reference reading, “Several human rights defenders were detained under vague and overly broad national security and anti-terrorism provisions, giving the authorities wide discretion to criminalize their peaceful activities.”

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