By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi/ Chennai: The pressure is mounting on the AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government to release 129 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members immediately as 98 of them are put in specially built Detention center despite the court having set them free on bail. The state government came under sharp criticism for its alleged “bias attitude” towards this humanitarian issue as Tamil Nadu is the only state in India which has set up a Detention center for these foreign Tablighi nationals.
State Muslim groups alleged that the ruling AIADMK is ‘playing communal politics’ on the issue at the behest of BJP.
There were 1,640 members of foreign Tablighi Jamaat from 47 countries in India at the time of the Markaz Nizamuddin congregation was made an issue blaming the spread of coronavirus in the country. Of them 129 were stranded in this southern state and out of which 53 were from Indonesia, 17 from Malaysia, 14 from Bangladesh, 14 from Thailand, 13 from Myanmar, eight from Ethiopia, five from France, three from Cameroon and one each from Congo and Belgium and among them at least 12 are women. They all are being treated badly in jails.
Former MLA and president of Manithaneya Makkal Katchi party (MMKP), Prof. M. H. Jawahirullah charged that the Tablighi Jamaat members, all foreign nationals, are being held in jail without proper sanitation, ventilation and space.
Prof. Jawahirullah, who is at the forefront coordinating the legal team and helping those detained, told Muslim Mirror that he is the only point of contact for most families who have failed to connect with their relatives despite diplomatic interventions. Quoting family members, he said Tablighi members are being treated in a profoundly inhumane manner.
The Tamil Nadu government has put a total of 129 foreign nationals from Asia, Europe and African countries – who participated in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in March – in central jail. While 98 foreign Tablighi members enlarged on bail are detained in Juvenile Prison named as Special Camp located within Puzhal Prison Campus, Chennai.
In April, the state government first registered 15 different FIRs across the state, then carried out multiple joint inter-district operations and bundled the foreigners into prison. While most of them were picked up from different mosques and private residential centres where they had quarantined themselves, 10 Malaysians were detained just minutes before they were to board a special flight arranged by their government.
He said the state government’s this action is violative of law and contrary to Manual for Model Detention Centre/Camp Manual.
State opposition parties and Muslim groups have condemned the government decision to set up detention center under the under the Foreigners Act in the middle of the ongoing pandemic. It converted Borstal School into a detention center.
They urged the state government to obey the Court Order and deport foreign TJ members at once.
In his ruling, Justice GR Swaminathan observed that “they (TJs) have already suffered enough for their transgression of law. They are having the right to return to their native countries at the earliest opportunity.
Justice Swaminathan further said, “I hold the continuance of the prosecution amounts to infraction of fundamental right under Article 21 of Constitution and directing their closure alone would secure the ends of justice”.
Madurai Bench of Madras High Court said in its order that “Merely because the petitioners (TJs) have contravened visa conditions they cannot be seen as criminals. The situation calls for empathy and understanding. They are yearning to breathe the native air.”
The lawyers, who are working towards getting the foreign nationals released in the state, termed TJs members’ detention as illegal.
They underlined that the right to life under Art 21 is applicable to foreigners too and the detention of Foreign TJs in subhuman conditions, despite guidelines issued by the Appropriate Authority is contrary to Law and Human Rights and most importantly, the Constitution of India.
K.M. Aasim Shehzad, one of the lawyers, said that no other state has made such extreme moves. He alleged between their bail order and the GO, the Tamil Nadu police had detained the six persons unlawfully. The defence lawyers have moved a habeas corpus application before the Madras high court as a protection against their illegal imprisonment.
Even if the foreigners were arrested initially, on securing bail, they could make their own arrangements. Several mosques and local groups came forward to help the stranded tourists.
However, only Tamil Nadu government decided to act in such a violative manner,” Shehzad said.
While Prof Jawahirullah pointed out that “Housing the 31 Foreign TJ in Corona infected Puzhal Prison 2 after Madras High Court orders their release is sheer contempt of Court. In his order, Justice Swaminathan has observed that tomorrow their (foreign tablighi members) life may be in danger and Tamil Nadu government will be answerable to the international community.